SEQUIM — Sequim School District has halted a sexual health education program after Superintendent Gary Neal deemed it not age-appropriate for students.
Neal said that the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum is on hold after several parents and staff said the material was neither age-appropriate nor completely scientifically accurate.
“Some things discussed were not age-appropriate,” Neal said at the March 5 School Board meeting. “We’re putting the brakes on everything with FLASH.”
Neal said the district is putting a hold on the curriculum for the rest of the school year until the district can review the FLASH presentation used this year.
“We are going to put a group together from the district to take a look at this,” he said.
The next Sequim School Board meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday at the district boardroom, 533 N. Sequim Ave. The issue is not on the agenda.
Parent Jason Peterson, who has a daughter in sixth grade at Sequim Middle School, brought his concerns before the School Board last fall, again at a meeting on Feb. 20.
He said the FLASH presentation given to his daughter and other sixth grade students was heavily weighed toward discussing gender identity rather than scientifically- or medically-based sexual health education.
Peterson said his daughter came home upset after she attended the FLASH presentation during a physical education class.
“She felt she was being encouraged to question her own gender identity,” he said.
Peterson viewed the presentation and felt that more than half of its content was geared toward discussing gender identity. He felt that should have been a much smaller percentage of the presentation.
He also said his daughter felt uncomfortable with some of the language used during the presentation.
“There was some really graphic language and she had never heard any of those terms until the class and she felt uncomfortable repeating them to me,” he said
“It was upsetting for her, and that’s what the big grievance was for a lot of parents.”
Lori Pritchard, who also has a child in the school district and spoke against the FLASH curriculum at the Feb. 20 board meeting, said it had changed over the years and in the past when it was taught, it was not an issue.
“It was going to be the old FLASH curriculum, but it was not the old FLASH curriculum,” she said.
Pritchard said the old FLASH curriculum was age-appropriate when she had viewed it for fifth grade but was not when she viewed it this year.
Sequim Middle School sixth grade science teacher, Marcia Garrett, also spoke at the Feb. 20 school board meeting in support of Peterson’s concerns and agreed she did not think the material was age-appropriate for sixth graders nor was it completely scientifically accurate.
“While I understand the Washington State standards require sexual orientation and gender identity to be taught, as an early adolescent specialist, I understand that a progression that suits their developmental level is important,” she said.
She also said the FLASH presentation did not teach the same definition of male and female as she teaches in her science class.
“As a science educator, I know we need to be sure scientific facts are clear,” Garrett said.
“An example of a concern I have is how the new FLASH program defines male and female. It defines them as ‘what the doctor said you were when you were born,’” she said.
“This is not the scientific definition that would be provided in the science department here.”
Peterson and Pritchard thanked the district March 5 for listening to their concerns and suspending the program for the time being.
“I just wanted to thank you all for your attention to this subject and for hearing us,” Pritchard said. “I really felt like you heard us two weeks ago when we brought up our concerns.”
About the program
FLASH is a sexual health education program developed out of Seattle and King County Public Health that covers the topics of sexual health at all school levels, from elementary school through high school.
Under the Healthy Youth Act, state legislation requires that every public school that offers sexual health education must assure it is medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status or sexual orientation, and includes information about abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases.
FLASH was one of the only programs in the state that supposedly covered these topics in the past, but when the curriculum was presented to the district this year it was allegedly different than what has been presented to students in previous years.
At the time FLASH was first developed, it was a free program, Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Parker said, and some parents and board members also commented on this fact and questioned the validity of the program due to the cost.
Neighboring Port Angeles approved the curriculum in December 2016.
Board member Brian Kuh said he was startled and upset by what he heard about the FLASH curriculum and was extremely concerned with what came out of it.
He said there were “major red flags” in the program and what happened was unacceptable.
Neal said what was offered to the district through FLASH was different than what was taught to students.
“Somewhere something got lost and what the expectations were,” he said.