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Sexual health education program suspended at Sequim Schools

Sexual health education program suspended at Sequim Schools
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Sequim School District recently halted a sexual health education program after Sequim superintendent Gary Neal deemed it not age-appropriate for students.

Neal said at the March 5 Sequim School Board meeting the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum is on hold after several parents and staff expressed complaints to the district about the material not being appropriate nor completely scientifically accurate.

One of those parents, Jason Peterson, who has a daughter in sixth grade at Sequim Middle School, brought his concerns before the board last fall and again at a school board meeting on Feb. 20. He said the FLASH presentation given to his daughter and other sixth grade students weighted heavily on discussing gender identity and not scientifically- or medically-based sexual health education.

Peterson said his daughter came home upset after she attended the FLASH presentation held during a physical education class.

“She felt she was being encouraged to question her own gender identity,” he said.

Peterson said he was able to view the presentation and felt that more than half of its content was geared toward discussing gender identity when it 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 a 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.”

Sequim Middle School sixth grade science teacher, Marcia Garrett, also spoke at the Feb. 20 school board meeting in support of Peterson’s concerns.

“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.

Garrett said the current 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,” she 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.’ This is not the scientific definition that would be provided in the science department here.”

About the program

FLASH is a free sexual health education program developed out of Seattle & King County Public Health that covers the topics of sexual health 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 include 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 previous years.

“Some things discussed were not age-appropriate,” Neal said March 5. “We’re putting the brakes on everything with FLASH.”

At the time FLASH was first developed, it was a free program, said Sequim assistant superintendent Stephanie Parker said.

The FLASH program was presented to students by Daryl Trowbridge, an advocate with Healthy Families of Clallam County. He was contracted by the district for free through a grant Healthy Families received in order to be certified to teach the program to school districts, Neal said.

Neal said it will remain out of the district’s curriculum until staff 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.

Sequim School Board director Brian Kuh said he was upset when he heard about the FLASH curriculum and that there were “major red flags” that are unacceptable.

Neal said with FLASH’s current curriculum, “somewhere something got lost and what the expectations were.”

At the March 5 meeting, Peterson and Pritchard thanked the district for listening to their concerns and suspending the program for the time being.

“I really felt like you heard us two weeks ago when we brought up our concerns,” Pritchard said.

The next Sequim School Board meeting is 6 p.m. Monday, March 19, at the district boardroom, 533 N. Sequim Ave. For more about the school district, see www.sequimschools.org.

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