A new state law requires Alaska school boards to approve sex education instructors, curriculums, and materials used to teach, prior to instruction. Last month, the Haines school board scrutinized the high school course and determined there were information gaps in the class materials. Last week, the approval of the middle school sex ed courses was more straightforward.
The board approved Pete Degen and Patty Brown as the middle school sex ed instructors. Degen teaches middle school math, science and health. Brown, math and science. At the latest school board meeting, Degen described his approach to teaching the course.
“This is about decision making,” said Degen. “And it doesn’t matter if you have a decision to make regarding your sexual conduct or you have a decision to make regarding how you treat a peer or somebody you’ve never met before that you’re dealing with across the counter. Whatever it is it’s all about decision making and communicating with people.”
In unanimous votes, the board also approved the curriculum and materials used to teach K-8 health and middle school sex ed. The resource for K-5 is called The Great Body Shop.
“Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Kenai, a lot of districts up north, Anchorage, use this for their K-5 and they’re very happy with it because it doesn’t take a lot of time and it covers all of the necessary standards,” said curriculum director Cheryl Stickler.
For grades 6-8, the main resource is Teen Health.
“The thing about Teen Health is that you can teach it in modules,” said Stickler. “So you can just pick out one of the modules and teach that as a complete unit. You don’t have to teach the chapters in order. And it also is compliant with HB156, with Bree’s Law and Erin’s law.”
Bree’s Law and Erin’s law are the main components of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act. They deal with sexual abuse, dating violence, and healthy relationships. House Bill 156 gives parents more oversight over their children’s education. It’s the reason the school board is legally required to review sex ed components and make it all available to parents prior to instruction.
“In that resource, the sex education portion is a separate module,” said Stickler. “So that if a parent is choosing not to have their child participate in that module here at school, they’re not just going to have access because they have access to the textbook.”
For all students in K-8, The MindUp Curriculum: Brain Focused Strategies for Learning – and Living was approved.
“This one really addresses community health, communication health, mental health, mindfulness,” said Stickler.
The curriculum for all grade levels covers personal health and wellness, nutrition and disease prevention, safety and injury prevention. It also reviews emotional, mental and social health, relationships, reproductive health and substance use prevention.
Overall, the board was pleased with the courses that were presented to them.
“It’s a very impressive – this packet is as well,” said Lisa Schwartz. “I appreciate how thorough it is. And I think we have a really great program that’s getting put together. And I didn’t see any holes in it.”
Schwartz did say she’d like to see a more thorough description of alcohol as a toxic substance.
The board also talked about how between the materials and curriculum provided, it’s a lot to teach. Stickler said everything they’ve been presented won’t necessarily be taught each year.
“We determine, we use our professional judgement and determine what are those non-negotiables that every student needs to walk out of my health class with, with this group of students,” said Stickler. “Because what might be developmentally appropriate for this year’s seventh or eighth grade, might not be that way for next year’s seventh or eighth grade.”
The curriculum and materials will now be available for parental review.