At the Dexter Board of Education meeting last Monday evening, the first public hearing of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Committee’s proposed update to the 7-12 grade health curriculum drew a number of speakers and an even larger audience.
The presentation, given by David Teddy, Director of Community Education and Jenkins Early Childhood Learning Center, and Crystal Zurek, Mill Creek health teacher, took only 8 minutes, with the rest of the hour-long session given to those expressing their opinion, both for and against the update.
The Reproductive Health Advocacy Committee (RHAC) is a committee the state recommends each district form for the purpose of reviewing the K-12 reproductive health curriculum and suggesting updates as needed. The committee is comprised of Dexter staff, parents, students and community members and meets a minimum of five times per year.
Dexter’s reproductive health curriculum was last updated in 2010, and meetings in both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years included considerable discussion about the lack of and need for LGBTQ+ curriculum in health classes.
A recent RHAC survey of Dexter students grades 7-12 confirmed this belief, with 46 percent of respondents saying they wanted/needed more information about LGBTQ+ health and 40 percent saying they wanted/needed education on gender identity. Of the top six reproductive health topics surveyed, including HIV and other STIs, healthy relationships and sexual harassment, the topics of LGBTQ+ health and gender identity received the highest percentages.
Based on these discussions and the results of the student survey, the RHAC determined that an update to the reproductive health curriculum was an urgent priority. The committee is recommending the “Rights, Respect and Responsibility Curriculum,” known as the “3 R’s Curriculum,” which has been endorsed by Laurie Bechhofer, Michigan Department of Education HIV/STD Education Consultant, and covers all the Michigan HIV and Sexuality standards for 7th grade through high school.
The 3 R’s Curriculum is a free curriculum based on 30 years of research which will update information already in the Michigan Model Curriculum, including additional topics covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Teddy shared that the state of Michigan is looking to adopt this curriculum in the future, so if adopted at Dexter, the district would be ahead of the curve.
Zurek added that if the new curriculum is adopted, parents of 7-12 graders will continue to have the right to opt their children out of reproductive health, just as they do currently.
Those speaking in favor of the proposed curriculum update included current and former DCS teachers and administrators, as well as alumni and parents. A 2008 DHS graduate gave a historical perspective to the discussion, saying that students needed this education when she was in school.
Teachers shared their personal experiences of teaching, mentoring and advising LGBTQ+ and transgender students, and that curriculum not including these populations is in effect negating their existence. These students feel isolated, degraded and even hated, which leads to a much greater risk of self-harm and even suicide.
Updating the reproductive health curriculum to educate all students about LGBTQ+ and gender identity issues is intended to foster more tolerance, empathy and acceptance from their heterosexual and CIS gender peers.
Speakers opposing the curriculum update were largely parents of past DHS graduates. Most shared the belief that bullying in any form is wrong, but that adjusting the reproductive health curriculum to educate students on LGBTQ+ and gender identity topics singles out these students as though they are the only population being bullied.
Several speakers said their children were bullied in schools for different reasons, and wondered why the district did not act similarly in those instances.
One speaker stated that parents are ultimately responsible for teaching their children reproductive health and that schools should not presume to take over this educational topic.
In the final few minutes, the RHAC spokespeople had an opportunity for final comments. Zurek stated that of the 49 lessons included in the comprehensive 7-12 grade curriculum, only six focus on LGBTQ+ health and gender identity. Teddy commented that reproductive health curriculum in school is not meant to replace family discussions in the home. However, he continued, “there is a greater percentage of students who do not get this information at home.”
He concluded his remarks saying, “the purpose of education is to provide students with the information so they are well-informed and can make the best decision possible.”