School district committee examines sexual health curriculum

Gathering community members and school officials together Monday at the Pagosa Springs Community Center, the School/Community Prevention Project (SCPP) spent the better part of the day examining sexual health curriculum for introduction into district schools this fall.

Archuleta County School District 50 Joint formed the SCPP earlier this year in response to growing concern by the district over how the district was addressing issues of substance abuse and sexual health among area students. Although the SCPP was charged with choosing appropriate curriculum for both issues, Monday’s meeting was focused on curriculum for sexual health (the SCPP decided on substance abuse curriculum earlier this month).

According to district Prevention Coordinator Anna Royer, materials introduced into the classroom will be “Science-based curriculum, based on CDC (Center for Disease Control) definitions.”

Adhering to that definition, the sexual health curriculum will bring the district in line with mandates from Colorado House Bill 1292. Signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007, HB 1292 stipulates that Colorado public school sex education programs, “maintain content standards for the curriculum that are based on scientific research,” and, at the same time, “emphasize abstinence and teach that sexual abstinence is the only certain way and the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.”

Community members, drawn from the district’s Health and Wellness Committee, assisted administrators and teachers in examining potential curriculum.

“There were twenty people there from the community,” Royer said, “And we received input from their professional backgrounds or as parents or teachers or school counselors. We were looking at curriculum appropriate for the students and our community,” she added, “A lot of it was abstinence-based but there’s also information there on contraception.”

Royer emphasized that if parents object to material dealing with contraception, they would have the choice to excuse their child from that section.

“If contraception is a part of a particular lesson, parents can choose to opt out of that lesson rather than the entire program,” Royer said.

Although the committee failed to reach a firm decision regarding which curriculum to adopt, Royer feels confident that the SCPP will have a materials ready for instruction in the fall.

“The state is pretty progressive,” she said. “We’ll have to make some adaptations in order to meet the needs of our community.”

In fact, information for the program is formidable and can be, at times, confusing. Indeed, in a March 12 article on the subject in The SUN, it was reported that “23 percent (of Archuleta county students who took the October 2008 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey) reported they’d used alcohol before the age of 13,” whereas Royer states the number is 33.5 percent. In the same article, The SUN reported that, “Of all respondents who reported sexual intercourse, only 24 percent of all females and 31 percent of the males said they had used a condom before their last sexual encounter.” However, Royer said that, “When the subset is treated as the whole, it’s actually closer to approximately 55 percent of females and approximately 68 percent of males who reported using a condom during last sexual intercourse.” Although Royer acknowledged that the inaccuracies were probably due to the reporter’s misinterpretation of the data presented at the March 10 district school board meeting, The SUN apologizes for the error and for any confusion that report may have caused.

Royer added that the SCPP and Health and Wellness committee will further review sexual health curricula April 20 and will hopefully have recommendations ready for the May district school board meeting.

jim@pagosasun.com