Opponents had spoken out against some of the content in the FLASH program selected by the school board
BATTLE GROUND — UPDATE 7/11/18 — Per Rita Sanders with Battle Ground School District, these are the elements of the FLASH curriculum that the board was set to consider adopting:
2. Reproductive System
6. Healthy Relationships
7. Coercion and Consent (including coercion and consent handout)
10. Birth Control Methods (including fact sheets)
11. Preventing HIV and Other STDs
12. Condoms to Prevent Pregnancy, HIV and Other STDs
13. Testing for HIV & Other STDs
That means the lessons on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity, as well as Unwinding Gender Stereotypes, would not have been part of the Battle Ground FLASH program. The district believes those topics, along with abstinence education and online safety, are already adequately addressed in existing curriculum. As previously mentioned, the district will re-examine other curriculum options over the Fall, and take more public feedback, in order to select a new health curriculum that complies with state law.
A standing-room only crowd showed up at Monday night’s meeting of the Battle Ground School Board. Many were there to voice either support or opposition to a new health curriculum known as FLASH (Family Life and Sexual Health). Ultimately Superintendent Mark Ross asked the board to delay approval of the new curriculum indefinitely.
“We want to make sure that our process is clear and transparent,” Ross told the crowd. “As always, with whatever curriculum that is adopted by the board, parents have the ability to review the material, and choose to opt their students out of it … But that being said, it’s important for us to stop, take a step back, and look at all of our options and see what best fits our needs, and what complies with state requirements.”
The district sought to adopt part of the FLASH program to update parts of its high school health education textbooks that no longer comply with state rules. While much of the program deals with things like abstinence, birth control, sexual violence, and the need for consent, the bulk of those who voiced opposition appeared to focus primarily on the way the curriculum tackles gender roles and identity.
“This agenda is being implemented all over the nation,” said Doug Sheddy, a local pastor and wrestling coach in Hockinson. “There’s a huge group of people who are very concerned that, even though it’s initially being introduced at the high schools, once it’s in, it has the opportunity to spread.”
Sheddy said he represents around half a dozen pastors in the region opposed to curriculum with which Planned Parenthood is involved, or the FLASH program , which was developed in King County.
“And we align with thousands in Massachusetts who have filed a federal complaint against the LGBT activities group for the fraudulent way they have claimed evidence in ‘born that way’ narrative,” he added. “We align with the Kansas Republican party, who affirms that God’s design for gender is determined by biological sex, and not self-perception. And they oppose all efforts to surgically or hormonally alter one’s body to conform to one’s perceived gender identity.”
Public comments were split into those opposing and those supporting the new curriculum, which made it difficult to gauge the numbers on each side, although a fairly large round of applause greeted the announcement that adoption would be indefinitely delayed.
Still, a number of people spoke out in favor of, if not this curriculum, at least better education about and for transgender students.
“The trans community is like math,” said Kambrya Smith, who will be a sophomore at Battle Ground High School next year, “you don’t understand math unless you go to class and are taught about it.”
Smith said she believes it’s important that students be taught that sex and gender can be two different things. “To the uneducated, being trans is a trend, or a phase, or a mistake,” she says. “Being trans doesn’t make you less of a person, it makes you who you are. And we need to be educated about how to be us.”
Shayden Sayles, who was born female but identifies as male, said the average school day includes a lot of fear, panic, and name-calling.
“And this is because I know I’m the ‘freak’ that catches everybody’s attention.” Sayles says, adding that curriculum like FLASH could ease the transition for some students. “Had I been given this information when I needed it, I wouldn’t have been alone in my journey to find out who I really am.”
Several parents responded to stories like the ones told by Sayles and Smith, but added that they don’t think it’s the responsibility of the schools to teach morality in terms of gender issues.
“It breaks my heart when I hear a student come up before you saying what’s happening to him,” said Heather Schmitke, a parent in the district. “It’s not acceptable to me. I’m not comfortable with the FLASH curriculum as a parent, but I’m also not comfortable with a child being bullied and marginalized in our schools. So regardless of who a person is — sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, our kids obviously deserve to be treated with respect.
“The primary facets of academia: reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and the arts,” Schmitke added. “But when we’re going onto gender identity being completely socially constructed, being pushed by a curriculum, I have a concern with that as a parent.”
Holly Smith, a school psychologist in the district, cited statistics from a 2015 Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior survey, which found that transgender students were 140 percent more likely than their peers to skip school over fears about bullying or threats, and that nearly one third of those students admitted to having attempted suicide in the past 12 months, compared to six percent of students as a whole.
“You can’t tell me that gender is biological when I have a five-year-old crying in my office because their body does not match,” Smith said. She added that Battle Ground is already in compliance with most of the CDC guidelines when it comes to addressing gender issues in school. “The one thing we are not doing, that the CDC has recommended, is to provide a health curriculum that gears towards those youth so that they can learn what they need to learn.”
In an interview with ClarkCountyToday.com, Battle Ground Superintendent Mark Ross said the district had initially pushed to get the curriculum approved this Summer in order to have the books and other materials in time for next school year.
“After the first reading we had the Fourth of July week,” he says, “and even though we had some people who called, we made appointments, some of our directors came in off of their vacations and talked to people, there may have been people who called and didn’t get a live person because our district office was closed. So that kind of made me realize maybe we just need to step back, and just make sure that we have a process that provides enough input. As you saw tonight, a lot of different opinions from a lot of different sides.”
Ross says the state provides four options for health education that fit within the Healthy Youth Act guidelines, so there aren’t a lot of choices available. For now, they’ll work to tweak what they can with the existing curriculum, and get teachers and the community involved in the process of selecting the new program next September. Ross says the process of reaching a conclusion could take much of next school year, but they want to make sure they get it right.
There was some confusion about exactly which parts of the FLASH program Battle Ground was hoping to adopt. Board member Mavis Nickels said she believes it wouldn’t have included the gender language most people were riled up about. At this point, Ross says, it’s all back up in the air.