Revised Helena Sex Ed Plan Faces Scrutiny

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A revised Helena schools sex education plan was bashed Tuesday by opponents as teaching too much too soon, but lauded by supporters as necessary instruction.

School officials have been reeling from a torrent of criticism since releasing a sex education program this summer that included controversial plans to teach children in the first grade that people of the same gender can love each other, and to teach fifth-graders that sexual intercourse includes “vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.”

But those provisions were axed in revisions released earlier this month, as were plans to teach second-graders it is hurtful to make fun of gay people by calling them names. Instead, the proposal stresses current policy against bullying of all kinds — such as harassment for sexual orientation and many other reasons.

The new plan also makes sure that starting in fifth grade educators are clear that abstinence from sex is a “healthy choice” and “the only 100 percent effective way” to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Other sections on general sex education remained the same.

But opponents remained unconvinced the sex education plan, just a small piece of a 65-page health and nutrition program, is a good idea. Many said the board hatched the comprehensive plan without giving parents a seat at the table.

“We parents are tired of being told we don’t just understand, or that we are intolerant, or we are misinformed or ill-informed,” said Helena resident Jerry Hamlin. “We believe the sex ed portion of this curriculum is too much too soon. Let’s not lose the innocence of our children.”

Feelings ran strong: Marybeth Adams traveled from Belgrade to oppose the plan in order to “head this off at the pass before it gets to Gallatin County.”

Over the course of several hours, opponents argued parents have the responsibility to teach sexual education, and that the new program would inherently take teaching time and materials that will cost a cash-strapped school district.

A very long line of supporters told the school board to ignore the critics and do the right thing for the health of children. They argued children of all ages need to know more about how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, disease, and unwanted pregnancy in a scientific way that goes beyond what most parents would do.

“It is very difficult for parents to sit down with children and discuss how to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy and disease,” said William Ballinger. “Most of us talk a good game about it and don’t do much about it.”

Other parents said the schools need to help provide scientific information on such matters to provide children an appropriate education on sex.

“I am pretty shocked by the level of sex information they are bombarded with from popular culture, movies and songs,” said Martha Kohl, a parent to two school-aged children. “A comprehensive sex education curriculum is something I strongly support.”

The school trustees didn’t vote on the item Tuesday night, giving them more time to work on the policy before taking final action.

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