KALAMAZOO, MI — Updated reproductive health curriculum was praised by parents and approved by the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education Thursday.
The new curriculum, with changes ranging from lessons on consent in sexual relationships to acknowledging broader changes in social norms, was approved unanimously by the board during a meeting Thursday, Nov. 21.
“Rights, Respect, Responsibility,” will be the new reproductive health education program for middle and high school students at KPS.
The update will be the first change to the district’s sex education curriculum in more than 10 years, Director of Student Services Nkenge Bergan said at a public forum Tuesday, Nov. 19. The curriculum, developed by a national organization called Advocates for Youth, covers “real issues” for students like sexting laws, dating violence, gender identity, personal safety, self-esteem and sexual harassment, Bergan said.
“It empowers kids to make good, healthy decisions as they grow older,” she said.
The organization’s website breaks down the curriculum by topic and grade level and is available in both English and Spanish. Topics explored in the curriculum on the website include abstinence, anatomy and reproduction, bullying, condoms and birth control, consent, gender-identity, pregnancy, sexual abuse, LGBTQ and sexually-transmitted diseases.
The curriculum is “honest, inclusive sex education for all students,” the curriculum website says. Other lesson plans include topics like understanding boundaries, gender roles and online safety.
The current health curriculum is “outdated,” Bergan said. Materials for sixth grade students were last updated in 2010, while lessons for seventh- and eighth-grade students are even older, she said.
Multiple parents expressed support for the new curriculum at the meeting Thursday.
Parent Pam Wadsworth said she appreciated the “comprehensive” sex education. As a nurse practitioner, Wadsworth said she has “seen the consequences of people not having that good education.”
Another parent, Jen Stroven, said the update was necessary.
“I’m super enthused about this,” Stroven said.
Bergan said people have evolved and sex education approved a decade ago no longer answers questions of today’s students.
Currently, some of the videos used in health class can only be played on a VCR. One video about unsafe situations teaches students to use a payphone to call for help — advice obviously no longer relevant for students, said Tracy Chappell, a science teacher at Milwood Magnet School.
The new curriculum includes conversations about individuals’ right to say no to unwanted sexual advances, better illustrates dating violence and educates students about topics like gender identity and sexual orientation.
Kalamazoo’s is not an “abstinence only” school district, Bergan said.
“We give kids all the information necessary to make good decisions,” she said.
In the district, reproductive health education begins in fifth grade. State law mandates districts teach students about HIV/AIDS but does not require any additional health education, Bergan said.
Board President Patti Sholler-Barber said the new curriculum includes “a lot of compassion, empathy and empowerment” for students.
“If we don’t empower our children, we have lost,” Sholler-Barber said.
The former reproductive health curriculum was taught in middle school during science class. Under the new curriculum, the lessons must be taught by a health-certified educator or family consumer science teacher.
Now that the overall curriculum is approved by the school board, district officials will later make decisions on which specific lesson plans, like those on gender identify, to include and for which age groups, Bergan said.
The district hopes to implement the new curriculum in the spring, Bergan said. Because of certification requirements, the district is considering options for teaching including hire new teachers or rearranging current staff, Bergan said.