As a student growing up in the Puyallup School District who lived with her, at the time, single father, I was permitted to attend the sexual health education classes provided by the elementary school. One year these classes taught young boys and girls about their respective anatomy. The next year we learned about the opposite bodies, as what I’d assume was a way to create a sense of empathy towards our peers and to build upon what we had learned the previous year. This was important for me because I recognized that this conversation could be uncomfortable for a man to have with his almost 10-year-old daughter.
On the very first day of seventh grade, I had my first period and remember this like it was yesterday. It was lunchtime, I was already nervous because I didn’t have anywhere to sit in an overcrowded lunchroom, in a new school where I couldn’t find anyone I knew. In my state of panic, I decided to go to the restroom and there it was.
My panic rose for a moment. Taking a deep breath, I left the restroom to the nurse’s office. To my dismay, I had no idea where it was and no way to find it unless I asked an adult. I quickly spotted the vice-principal and asked him where it was. Curious about what I needed he asked what was wrong and all I could do was stare at him. It only took a few seconds for him to see the panic in my face, and immediately took me to the main office where the nurse’s office was tucked away. Once I was taken care of, I sent my dad a message to let him know that I needed things and he took care of it as soon as he could and that was that.
Had I not had those classes in elementary school I may not have fully understood what was going on and my state of mild panic may have been more of a crisis. Instead, I was able to recognize what was going on and get it taken care of and my dad didn’t need to worry about anything beyond making sure I had what I needed and was okay.
Over the past year, the Battle Ground Public School system has been struggling to gain public approval of the Seattle based FLASH program. In October, Battle Ground Public Schools voted 3-2 to not only reject teaching the FLASH curriculum in its high schools, but to get rid of any form of sexual health education not required by the state of Washington. At this time, the only form of sexual health education required by state law is HIV/AIDs prevention.
Two of the most common complaints held by parents is that the curriculum would encourage promiscuity among teenagers and would promote a LGBTQ lifestyle. According to Vicki Craft, representative of Washington’s seventeenth district, these classes aim to “groom and sexualize children.”
Shauna Walters, candidate for Battle-Grounds City Council Pos. 3, was quoted by The Columbian saying, “They do not care about respecting our local communities …rather, they only wish to disrupt our values and corrupt our children.” These allegations, which are unsubstantiated and harmful, have subsequently led to the irresponsible decision to get rid of sexual health education in grades 9-12 altogether by the Battle Ground Public School system.
Sexual health education programs do not promote or encourage sexual activity. They do not teach teenagers how to have sex nor are they only about the physical act itself. They are designed to teach them how their bodies work, how to take care of their bodies, how to keep themselves safe when they are faced with making “adult” decisions and knowing their options in the event something awful happens to them. Teens deserve to know how their bodies work and how to take care of themselves mentally, physically and emotionally.
As a teenager, my parents no longer permitted me to attend sexual health classes. That was, and is, their right. My parents thought they were protecting me and thought I didn’t need to know the answers because I wasn’t going to have sex until I was married. They believed this information was inappropriate for teenagers and the schools had no business teaching them “how to have sex” or promote teens making such adult decisions as if that was the only thing these classes did. They felt these classes overstepped the bounds of what schools should be teaching and parents should be teaching their kids these things so they can control what is taught.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, studies have shown the opposite of what these parents claim. Comprehensive sexual health education has been proven to “reduce the rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors, sexually transmitted infections and adolescent pregnancy.” (Visit www.acog.org for more detailed information).
Even though my parents felt it was their job to teach me these facts of life, they didn’t. As an adult, I have had to Google whether normal bodily occurrences were, in fact, normal or if there was something wrong with me.
I was mortified asking my doctor for a birth control prescription or buying condoms from the store once I entered a serious relationship with my now-husband. I’ve even been self-conscious buying pregnancy tests as a married woman because these things were never normalized for me. They were seen as adult topics; things to be kept for marriage. Nobody gives you sex ed classes when you become an adult or get married.
Board President Troy McCoy has been quoted by Oregon Public Broadcasting, “I believed that the opt-out provisions gave our parents who didn’t want that curriculum that option… by changing that policy I believe we took away the freedom of those parents that wanted that curriculum to have it.”
It is bothersome that the loud voices of a few parents have created such a blatant disservice to the youth in Battle Ground High Schools.
As it was, and is in most school districts, parents already retain the right to reject having their child participate in sex ed if they so choose. For the school district to let these baseless allegations affect all high school students by pulling the program entirely is reckless and puts these teens at a disadvantage for their futures.
Story written by Miranda Embrey