Controversial sex ed curriculum sent back to Spokane Public Schools board

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A Spokane Public Schools advisory committee on Wednesday doubled down on its choice of the "Get Real" sexual education curriculum developed by a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Massachusetts.

The Human Growth & Development Citizens Advisory 
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Committee initially chose the curriculum toward the end of the past school year after a months-long process. But in June, days before the Spokane Public Schools board was set to vote on whether or not to adopt it, citizens and the Spokane County Republican Party expressed concerns about the curriculum. Those concerns centered around the fact that Planned Parenthood helped create it.

School administrators sent the decision back to the advisory committee, composed of members representing various community, religious and health groups. But on Wednesday, during the committee's first meeting of the school year and after a two-hour debate, they decided in a 9-3 vote to reconfirm the "Get Real" curriculum for grades 6 through 9, with those dissenting encouraged to detail their concerns. That will leave it to the school board to decide whether or not to adopt it.

"We reconfirmed what we did last spring, and now we have more voices from the other side that the school board can deal with, because they're the ones that ultimately have to make the decision to move forward on this or not," says committee member Dr. Hershel Zellmen, who represented the Spokane County Medical Society during the meeting. "I think we're in a good place."

Not everyone on the committee agrees with that. The meeting was spent debating whether or not to reconsider the "Get Real" curriculum. A few members pushed for the committee to read through it chapter by chapter, something that likely would require additional meetings.

While the vote to approve it in the spring was unanimous, two members of the committee who dissented on Wednesday were absent at the time: local pastor John Repsold and David DeWolf, representing Life Services of Spokane. A third member, Jason Soucinek, representing ministry Project Six19, voted for the curriculum in the spring but since has changed his mind. All three dissented in the final vote Wednesday to reconfirm "Get Real."

Repsold, DeWolf and Soucinek argue that additional discussion was needed in order to outline their concerns. Putting the curriculum in front of the board without spending more time discussing the issue amounts to a failure of the committee, Soucinek says.

"I really believe that," he says. "What we're doing is we're putting in front of the board a mess."

Other members, however, feel that the process in approving "Get Real" as the comprehensive sex ed curriculum for grades 6 through 9 was thorough. The committee spent months poring over the objectives for the sexual education standards that were updated by the state. In the spring, the committee broke up into groups of five or six people, each group assigned to a different section of sexual education curriculum to study. Not every person was asked to read each word of the "Get Real" curriculum, only a section. But Rachel Todd, education manager for the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, and a member of the committee, notes that the entire curriculum was always available for people to study if they wanted.

Repsold, however, prefers that the committee go back and study every detail before sending the curriculum to the school board to decide. He says the devil is in the details.

"I think we need to look at the details," he says. "Unless you want to throw it to the school board and have the firestorm at the school board level, which I don't think is why they sent it back to us."

Heather Beebe-Stevens, a committee member who supports "Get Real," says that no matter how much they debated it, some would vote "No" because it was created by Planned Parenthood.

"We could look at every single letter in the entire curriculum and it's still going to be a 'No' vote because the Planned Parenthood name is on there," Beebe-Stevens says. "I have a big challenge with the fact that we're politicizing our children's education."

Repsold says that no matter whose name was on the curriculum, he would have problems. But the fact that Planned Parenthood was involved, he says, "poses additional problems in the community." When asked multiple times to outline specific concerns, Repsold said there was no time during the meeting to do so.

The committee ultimately decided to send the curriculum back, with an amendment encouraging those who dissent to write out their concerns to the school board.

In an interview, Planned Parenthood's Todd says that even if Repsold and DeWolf had been there for the initial vote in the spring, the committee would likely have passed the "Get Real" curriculum.

"I think it's really important to remember to focus on what's best for the young people in our area," Todd says. "Spokane has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Washington state. It's much higher than state average. That really says that our young people need something more than what we're currently giving them."

Beebe-Stevens suggests there will likely be conflict, no matter what.

"I think we're all completely kidding ourselves to think that whatever goes in front of the school board, there's gonna be a complete 'Hurrah!' from the community," she says. "I mean, it doesn't matter which way it goes — there's gonna be a lot of arguing on both sides."