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Curriculum revisions continue to cause concern in Parkway

By: Mary Shapiro


The current Parkway School District Board of Education is standing firm on a decision by its predecessor to back revisions to the district’s sexual health/healthy relationship curriculum frameworks. Approved in March, some of those frameworks will go into effect this month.

At its Aug. 24 meeting , the board heard from 18 speakers, including one parent who asked for more information.

Kate Wall, who has three daughters in Parkway schools, asked for “complete transparency of what the plans are for how you [the district] plan to  roll this out.”

“I would love a breakdown of grade, gender, timeline, when and how it will be rolled out, and whether or not teacher opinion can influence the message,” Wall said. “Give me the opportunity to know what you’re going to teach and when, so if there is something to be taught that I have some unsettled feelings about, I can tell [my children] first.”

The district plans to hold an open curriculum night, targeted to parents of students in grades six through 12, from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29 at Parkway Central Middle School, 471 N. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield.  Parents will have the chance to  view curriculum materials and preview instructional videos and other resources that are to be used for lessons.

Additional curriculum nights are being planned, including one for parents of elementary students in January. Additionally, there is a student opt-out provision for parents concerned about any lessons.

The revisions were the result of a regular district review process that included resident and parent input. Amid concern to the contrary, district officials have said that the district is not adopting comprehensive sexuality education standards promoted by specific groups, including Planned Parenthood – though those standards were among the ones used to audit the proposal.

The district’s frameworks were created by Parkway educators using national health education standards advocated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with input from the St. Louis County Department of Health, among others.

Before public comments began on Aug. 24, Board President Chris Jacob said that he was aware of a rumor that the board would revisit and possibly re-vote on the previously-approved frameworks revisions. “But the March 9 vote stands, and the board is not considering a re-vote on that decision,” he said. “We support revisions and will continue to monitor the implementation now and throughout the school year. The goal is to ensure students develop healthy and safe relationships.”

Jacob encouraged those in the community to provide feedback, especially as a parental website comes online and other materials become available.

Opponents of the revisions expressed numerous concerns. Edward Martin, of Ballwin and president of the Eagle Forum conservative interest group founded by Phyllis Schlafly, challenged the board on the March vote and suggested that the board consider offering, in addition to approved revisions, his organization’s supplemental abstinence-based health education program for teachers to use. He said some parents and students “might feel a bit ostracized” if they opt out of lessons.

“These are very challenging issues and won’t go away,” Martin said.

Dr. Ronald Hogue, of Manchester and who has five grandchildren in Parkway schools, asked Superintendent Keith Marty: “Why do you insist on using taxpayer dollars to push an illegal curriculum that the majority of parents do not want? Why are you willing to spend over $500,000 of taxpayer money  to push a social agenda that’s medically inaccurate and with information that’s scientifically refuted?”

Suzanne Bias, of Ballwin, asked Marty, “What medical panel representing both comprehensive sex education and sexual risk avoidance signed off on the medical accuracy of the revised curriculum?” She said “taxpayers are owed an answer to this question.”

“This is medically inaccurate, this is indoctrination and not education – suspend this dangerous curriculum,” Bias told the board.

But supporters of the revisions praised the board for its actions. Pam Hill, of Ballwin and a parent of Parkway sixth- and third-graders, thanked the district, saying that she supported the updated curriculum.

“Please retain it so we can move on,” Hill said. “You don’t have to be a member of what some opponents might call a ‘special interest group’ to support this curriculum, as its opponents have implied. My special interest is the well-being of students and overall public health.” Hill added that the revisions are inclusive, contain a strong pro-abstinence message and provide “medically accurate, thoroughly researched information that is important for students to know regardless of their gender identity and their sexual orientation.”

Rabbi Roxanne Shapiro, of Chesterfield and a parent of second- and sixth-graders in Parkway, said she applauded the board for adopting the revised curriculum, saying “it provides our children with facts and information that they need for their well-being.”

“It also grants our children a sense of personal responsibility and identity,” Shapiro said.

“The updates are supported by scientific consensus, are realistic about adolescent sexual behavior and, in my opinion, are age-appropriate,” said Steve Johnson, of Ballwin and father of two students in Parkway. Johnson added that the opt-out provision is a good compromise. “For the sake of our community, it is critical that complete information regarding contraception and sexual health risk reduction as it pertains to all orientations be taught in our public schools,” he said.

Dr. Amanda Heidemann, of Ballwin, who is a parent of two Parkway students and a family physician, asked the board to remain committed to the revisions and said implementing the curriculum “is the best way to educate our students about the real life risks of sexual activity [that] I see in my practice every day.”

One parent criticized what she called some opponents going after her son for his support of revisions. Janie Walker, mother of Parkway Central High sophomore Andrew Bennett, told opponents that “there is a line you do not cross and it has been crossed – the intimidation tactics, the videos, the pictures and the writing online about a minor – where is the moral outrage [about that]?”

“I saw that my face was plastered on a hate-filled website – lies upon lies upon lies were spewed about me,” said Andrew, 16, who has spoken repeatedly in favor of the revisions.

 

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