At the Dexter Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, members of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Committee (RHAC) presented a proposal to update Dexter’s reproductive health curriculum. Following the committee’s survey of over 375 Dexter high and middle school students, it became clear that while the District is educating students about many aspects of reproductive and sexual health, students feel they aren’t getting enough information about contraception, gender identity and LGBTQ+ health. The survey also showed that Dexter students both want and need to receive more instruction on these topics.
The RHAC is a Board-established committee comprised of teachers, administrators, students, health care professionals, clergy and community members. Committee members David Teddy (Director of Community Education and Jenkins Early Childhood Learning Center), Crystal Zurek (7th grade reproductive health teacher), Kim Kirkey (parent), Lisa Judge (parent) MacKenzie Gabriel-Lazette (DHS student representative) and Autumn Campbell (former DHS teacher and Gay-Straight Alliance advisor) spoke during the presentation. The majority of the BOE meeting’s approximately 35 attendees were fellow members of the committee and DCS administrators, staff and other community members present to show their support of the proposed curriculum update.
The impetus for this proposal began when DHS students approached the committee with concerns that the reproductive health curriculum at both the middle and high schools did not include information about the LGBTQ+ community, in particular health and gender identity education. RHAC members reviewed the current curriculum (last updated in 2010) and determined there are important health disparities and discrimination of the LBGTQ+ population which need to be addressed. A lack of education about the LGBTQ+ population can lead to bullying, verbal, sexual and physical harassment and assaults which leave affected students feeling unsafe at school, isolated, depressed and even suicidal.
The committee proposes to adopt a selection of the 7th-12th grade lessons from the “Rights, Respect and Responsibility Curriculum,” recommended by Laurie Bechhofer, Michigan Department of Education HIV/STD Education Consultant, which covers all the Michigan HIV and Sexuality standards for 7th grade and high school. This is a free curriculum and would update information already in the Michigan Model Curriculum and include additional topics covering sexual orientation and gender identity.
Powerful testimony in support of the curriculum update came from DHS senior MacKenzie Gabriel-Lazette, who stated that she took the DHS health and wellness elective in 9th grade, but didn’t not receive the information she needed as an LGBTQ+ student. “The information given is not true to what society it like today,” she said, “and we need to give equal education and inclusion for all students.”
Former DHS teacher and advisor of the Gay-Straight Alliance, Autumn Campbell, distilled the student comments she has heard into two categories: 1) erasure/neglect of feelings due to the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in classes, school and the curriculum, which cultivates depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts; and 2) targeting, where students are being harassed, bullied and assaulted, ignored and rejected by their peers, staff community members and family. “By approving this proposed curriculum, the District is letting these students know we care about their health and well-being,” Campbell stated.
Wrapping up, David Teddy said the most powerful point of all is that this message is coming from our students; there is a need for LGBTQ+ education, and we have to listen to our students and understand their concerns. “It’s time for us to make a difference and incorporate this curriculum to better meet the needs of our students,” he concluded.
The BOE will discuss this proposal further at future meetings, the next of which is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Creekside Media Center.
The presentation is available HERE