Spokane Public Schools won't adopt Planned Parenthood sex ed curriculum

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Spokane Public Schools will not implement Planned Parenthood's "Get Real" sexual education curriculum in its middle schools, instead opting to continue its old method of choosing sex ed material, district administration told the school board yesterday.

Spokane Public Schools administration told the school board it decided against sending the decision to approve the "Get Real" curriculum to the board. Rather than approve a comprehensive sex ed curriculum like "Get Real," the district will piece together human growth and development curricula topic by topic, like it has in the past, says Adam Swinyard, Spokane Public Schools chief academic officer.

"We are going to continue with that process," Swinyard tells the Inlander.

The process to land on the "Get Real" curriculum, starting at the beginning of this calendar year, was contentious. The district decided it needed to update its curriculum to reflect a 2015 change in state standards. This spring, the district's Human Growth and Development advisory committee recommended the evidence-based Planned Parenthood curriculum, which meets the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction standards.

But after some community members and organizations expressed concerns that centered around Planned Parenthood's involvement, administration took the option of adopting the curriculum off the school board agenda a couple of days before the school board meeting in June.

The district sent the curriculum back to the advisory committee, and board members were flooded with emails both in support of and in opposition to it. Those who opposed it mainly were concerned that it was developed by Planned Parenthood. But 500 of those emails were identical, and there was no indication the senders lived in Spokane, the Spokesman-Review reported. Of those from real Spokane Public Schools constituents, the Inlander reported that 60 out of 66 supported "Get Real."

This fall, the Human Growth and Development advisory committee doubled down on its decision regarding "Get Real." It was scheduled to be on the school board's agenda in February 2018. Now, however, the district has decided it would go in a different direction with its sex ed curriculum.

The decision frustrated some members of the Human Growth and Advisory Committee, like Rachel Todd, education manager for the local Planned Parenthood affiliate.

"I think I can speak for most of the committee, at least a number of folks I know and talk to, and say that it's disappointing," Todd says, "but not totally surprising."

It's not clear exactly what led to Spokane Public Schools changing course. District spokesman Kevin Morrison says the community's input was "valuable." But there were other factors that played into it. Swinyard, in an interview, noted that the "Get Real" curriculum was a semester's worth of materials, but that middle school classrooms teaching sex ed only needed about 240 total minutes of instruction.

When asked if the district found anything in the curriculum that it deemed not suitable to teach middle-schoolers, Swinyard says "we didn't get that far down the road to look at that specifically."

School board president Deana Brower says she has several concerns about how district staff handled the process. She wonders if staff made it clear to the Human Growth and Development committee that it wasn't looking for a semester-long comprehensive course.

"I'm very curious about the direction that was received from staff," Brower says.

Todd says that, in fact, the committee was not told there was a limit on how much time schools should spend on sex ed. The "Get Real" curriculum was chosen, she says, because it was shown to be effective.

In addition, however, Brower says she recently learned of issues with the process that occurred before the decision made it to the Human Growth and Development advisory committee. Before the committee got involved, a group consisting of teachers, counselors, principals and parents selected a different curriculum to send the committee, but then a staff member, Brower says, urged the group to consider a second review that ranked "Get Real" higher. It was only then that the Human Growth and Development advisory committee reviewed and vetted the "Get Real" curriculum and moved it along for the district to put it on the school board agenda.

Brower says that tainted the neutrality of the process.

"I'm not sure all those committee members knew that had happened," Brower says. "It just came to my attention, and recently came to the attention of the administration."

Now, the process will start over, with the intention of filling the gaps in sex ed needed to meet state standards. Brower says she's disappointed with the way it was handled. She worries how the curricula selection process will go after hearing so much community input.

"We've lost our ability to go back to a neutral place and look at these materials with a neutral eye," Brower says.

Still, she says it's not about "tallying up how many people are on each side." It's about providing the best quality education for all students.

"If it's not balanced, and too many students are backing out, then we're not delivering quality education to the maximum number of students we can reach," Brower says. "At the same time, we have to offer scientific, medically appropriate information that meets state standards. And some of that is going to be objectionable to some people."