Battle Ground School Board eliminates sex ed requirement

The state could move next year to require comprehensive sexual health classes in schools

BATTLE GROUND — “I need a Snickers,” quipped Battle Ground Public School Board President Troy McCoy at one point Monday night in the midst of more than three hours of public testimony over the district’s proposed comprehensive sexual health curriculum.

The marathon session was the second time the CSE curriculum has drawn an overflow crowd to the school board meeting. This time, 42 people lined up to share their thoughts about the program the district had spent well over a year piecing together from a number of sexual health curriculums approved by the state.

An overflow crowd gathered at the Battle Ground School District Board of Directors meeting Oct. 28 to talk about comprehensive sexual health curriculum. Photo by Chris Brown
An overflow crowd gathered at the Battle Ground School District Board of Directors meeting Oct. 28 to talk about comprehensive sexual health curriculum. Photo by Chris Brown

In the end, the board voted 3-2 to simply not have a sexual health curriculum requirement, outside of a Growth and Development class offered as part of 5th grade Biology. District 4 Director Mark Watrin and Board President Troy McCoy voted no.

District 5 Director Tina Lambert, the lone no vote at the board’s Oct. 14 meeting during first reading of the new curriculum, introduced a proposal to simply eliminate the sex ed requirement until such time as the state makes it mandatory. Under this decision, Battle Ground will provide only mandatory education on AIDS and HIV prevention.

Jennifer Heine-Withee speaks against CSE curriculum at the Battle Ground School Board meeting Oct. 28. Photo by Chris Brown
Jennifer Heine-Withee speaks against CSE curriculum at the Battle Ground School Board meeting Oct. 28. Photo by Chris Brown

An effort to mandate comprehensive sexual health curriculum failed to pass during the 2019 legislative session, but appears likely to come up again in 2020.

With the district deciding to forgo adoption of a new sexual health curriculum for now, much of Monday’s board discussion centered on whether striking the requirement for sex ed would affect an elective course in 5th grade Biology on growth and development. 

In order to avoid that, the board elected to amend District Policy 2125 to read “the board has determined that such a program will not be offered to students, except a unit on human growth and development to be offered in the fifth grade.” (Italics indicate new language added).

Retired Dr. Beth Lee speaks in support of new comprehensive sexual health curriculum in front of the Battle Ground School Board. Photo by Chris Brown
Retired Dr. Beth Lee speaks in support of new comprehensive sexual health curriculum in front of the Battle Ground School Board. Photo by Chris Brown

The decision comes after more than a year of contentious debate over the topic of comprehensive sexual health curriculum. While most districts in Clark County quietly adopted a program known as FLASH, developed in King County, Battle Ground became something of a battleground over the topic.

Under the state’s 2005 Healthy Youth Act, any comprehensive sexual health curriculum adopted by a school district must be “medically accurate, age appropriate and inclusive of all kids regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation.”

Rep. Vicki Kraft (17th District, R-Vancouver) speaks against comprehensive sexual health curriculum at the Battle Ground School Board meeting on Oct. 28. Photo by Chris Brown
Rep. Vicki Kraft (17th District, R-Vancouver) speaks against comprehensive sexual health curriculum at the Battle Ground School Board meeting on Oct. 28. Photo by Chris Brown

Battle Ground had attempted to adopt bits and pieces from a variety of potential CSE courses in order to put together something that satisfies the law, but would assuage concerns of community members. In an online survey with over 2,000 respondents, 18 percent indicated they felt the new curriculum represented a pro-LGBTQ agenda.

Others at Monday’s meeting worried that students would be more sexually active given the sometimes graphic nature of the learning materials. Area youth pastors warned they would advise parents to pull their children out of public school altogether if the curriculum was adopted, and others warned that it would result in thousands of votes against school funding levies.

Many people at Monday’s meeting sported blue shirts that read “school strong” on one side, and “No CSE vote no school levy” on the other. They came from Gary Wilson, who noted he quickly went through 100 of them and had 500 more on the way.

Battle Ground Public Schools Superintendent Mark Ross listens during public testimony about the district’s proposed new comprehensive sexual health curriculum. Photo by Chris Brown
Battle Ground Public Schools Superintendent Mark Ross listens during public testimony about the district’s proposed new comprehensive sexual health curriculum. Photo by Chris Brown

Wilson noted later that the shirts will likely still be needed for trips to Olympia next year to fight against continued efforts to make CSE mandatory, as it is in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Those who argued for the curriculum noted research showing it helps reduce bullying of gay and transgender students, cuts down on teenage pregnancies and STDs, and reduces the risk of sexual assault during later college years.

Dr. Beth Lee, a retired Battle Ground physician, noted that science is “slimy” and “gooey,” but that shouldn’t preclude it from being taught.

“Does sex ed make you want to have sex?” she asked. “Well, I don’t know. Does talking to your kids about healthy food make them not want to go to McDonalds? If you teach them about vegetarianism, do they all turn into vegans?”

Homeschool advocate Heidi St. John speaks out against comprehensive sexual health curriculum at the Battle Ground School Board meeting on Oct. 28. Photo by Chris Brown
Homeschool advocate Heidi St. John speaks out against comprehensive sexual health curriculum at the Battle Ground School Board meeting on Oct. 28. Photo by Chris Brown

Other supporters noted again that the district had kept the option for parents to opt their students out of any or all of the new CSE curriculum.

“If parents want to pull kids from programs, that’s great,” said Lee, “but they shouldn’t block other kids from learning science.”

But the majority, including 17th District Representative Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver) argued that curriculum like this is part of a “larger agenda” to “groom and sexualize children.”

Kraft and others noted that much of the CSE curriculum comes out of California, along with Drag Queen Story Hour, which has drawn many of the same faces seen in Battle Ground on Monday to meetings of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library’s Board of Trustees.

The board spent little time Monday discussing the specifics of the sexual health curriculum. 

There was some discussion about adopting the curriculum in the event the state does move to make it mandatory, but since it’s possible the state would add or subtract from what is required, it was deemed likely that the selection process would need to begin again.

“It was a lot of work, and the community may disagree with me, but there was a lot of community involvement,” said McCoy, noting the extensive survey and the countless conversations he’s had with people in recent weeks. 

Board Vice President Monty Anderson agreed, saying the district’s curriculum selection committee had worked tirelessly to try and make this a “Battle Ground specific program.”

Anderson also said he would like to explore the option of looking into training for high school students on bullying, in order to at least address that part of the experience of gay, lesbian, or transgender students.

McCoy also apologized to other people in the area who had tried to contact him prior to Monday’s meeting, noting he had been inundated with calls from people out of state due to a “call to action.”

“Between the calls from Minnesota, Michigan, and North Dakota it was tough to get to phone calls from Battle Ground,” said McCoy. “I’ve taken issue with previous comments that ‘I want to make Battle Ground a battleground.’ That’s not why this board is here. This board is here to serve the kids. We’re not looking for a fight.”

For now, it seems, they won’t get one, but many in the audience at Monday’s meeting said they’re preparing to pack their belongings next January for a trip to Olympia.

They’ll have a trunkload of blue T-shirts to bring along for the ride.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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