The Clarke County School Board revived the process of developing a sex education curriculum for Clarke County Public School students Monday night. Also known as “Family Life Education” (FLE), the curriculum development process promises to be complex as school officials seek to tailor educational materials to a citizen constituency with differing views and opinions on the role of the school system in guiding social behavior and values.
At Monday night school board meeting Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy attempted to set expectations for the FLE development process. “Anything that we do in this area has to be tailored to meet the unique needs of our community” Murphy said. Murphy emphasized that the School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) comprised of school nurse Dorothy Clark, parents, community members and school staff members, will play an important role in development of the FLE policies.
Clark and the current SHAB have been involved in FLE off and on since 1998 but at present, CCPS has not Family Life Education curriculum. Once the SHAB becomes active again, school staff will develop a draft regulation to guide the FLE process. The draft regulation will then receive validation by school staff, the SHAB, and then presented to the school board for review and comment.
Murphy stressed that the FLE process will be as public as possible to ensure there are no surprises at the end of the journey.
As with all FLE programs statewide, Clarke County’s family life education program and curriculum is governed under the Virginia Department of Education’s FLE standards of learning objectives. Virginia policy is to keep tight rein on any material used for sex education. For example, all instructional materials of any kind used in sex education courses must be approved by the State Board of Education and Superintendent Murphy. Similarly, no materials relating to sex education may be made available for circulation to students through the school libraries or media centers to students unless the State Board of Education and the local school board have has approved the materials.
When it comes to actual classroom teaching, VDOE policy requires Murphy to appoint a FLE leader for each grade level. The FLE leaders will assist in training teachers and work with the community and staff to assist in the implementation and evaluation of the FLE program. All teachers who teach Family Life Education are required to participate in a Virginia Department of Education FLE training program.
VDOE says that portions of FLE classes which deal exclusively with human sexuality may be conducted in separate sessions for boys and girls. An “opt-out” policy will be available to parents that chose for their children not to participate in the family life education program.
Murphy and the school board have their work cut out if Clarke County public opinion on sex education follows the same divisions as did recent debate related to underage drinking. Public sentiment over how best to handle substance abuse problems erupted when a rising high school senior was tragically killed in a drunk driving accident this summer.
With regard to underage drinking, Clarke County citizens are generally divided along two opinions; On one side, many citizens voiced strong opinion that substance abuse education was first and foremost the responsibility of the family and that school intervention is largely ineffective in preventing substance abuse. The opposing viewpoint is that the pervasiveness of teen substance abuse demonstrates that many families either do not care or are ineffective in communicating substance abuse guidance to teens therefore requiring the intervention of school systems to reduce teen substance abuse.
While parental discussions with teens over substance abuse can be difficult at times, sex education discussion can be every bit as challenging of a discussion topic.
Many health care professionals advocate strong FLE programs as a means to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Jessica Edwards, an OB/GYN physician in Winchester said “Even if you don’t think that your child is having sex you still need to be talking to them about sex.”
CCHS principal Dr. John Werner, a member of the board of directors for CLEAN (Community and Law Enforcement Against Narcotics) an organization dedicated to assisting young people in avoiding destructive decisions, said recently ”Kids are going to get information about drugs, sex and other things from somewhere. Knowledge is power. There’s a silent majority out there that wants to be more aware about these kinds of issues.”
Two school board members are tentatively slated to serve on the SHAB committee that will develop the family life education policy. As of Monday’s meeting, no decision had been made on who the SHAB school board members will be.