Revised curriculum impacts Okemos public school district

With the number of HIV/AIDS cases among adolescents steadily growing, sexual and health awareness has become a top priority for many in the educational sector, including Okemos school district.

During the Okemos School Board meeting on January 28, one of the major topics was the revision of the health curriculum. Assistant Superintendent Patty Trelstad and Reproductive Health Supervisor Jill Dehlin presented a brief, yet detailed proposal to the Board about necessary revision of the district’s health curriculum, especially pertaining to HIV/AIDS.

“The State of Michigan passed additional laws since 2004 regarding what should be taught, but it’s up to individual school districts to decide,” said Dehlin.

She is referring to the Michigan Model, which was passed in 2004. If school districts chose to provide a sex education curriculum, they must provide information about statutory rape, the Sex Offender Registry, STDs and abstinence.

School districts also have an option of providing either an abstinence-based or abstinence only curriculum.

“Abstinence based promotes abstinence, but gives students information to protect themselves against STDs and unwanted pregnancy,” said Dehlin. “Abstinence only provides no information to prevent pregnancy or STDs. Okemos has an abstinence based curriculum.”

The new health curriculum would provide more effective ways and alternatives to live a safe and healthy for students.

“It’s a well rounded curriculum,” said Dehlin. “It focuses more on healthy relationships. We tend to look at the bad relationships and the negative like date rape to teach students about sex. It will provide students information without using fear all the time.”

Currently, instructors and teachers are trained to teach elementary sexual education. This proposal would pertain to those in Kindergarten through the ninth grades. The goal is to inform the student population about what HIV/AIDS is, how to transmit it, prevention and promote abstinence.

The state of Michigan lets every school district decide if it wants to teach sex education.

“We’re at liberty to teach the curriculum we want. The new curriculum will be all spelled out; it will already be there for teachers to provide information,” said Dehlin. “We’re requesting lessons be terminated that aren’t impacting like others.”

In Kindergarten, instructors focus on the basics like being friends with someone who has HIV. Most of the sexual aspects relating to HIV/AIDS, as well other sexually transmitted diseases, are not discussed until the seventh grade. Most of the time, when these lessons are taught to elementary school students, males and females are separated.

For ninth grade students, new videos would be added to the health curriculum, including one that discusses the difference between crushes and relationships. Even though the school district will continue to teach students about sexual health and education, there is a realization that the parents are the primary educators regarding their children’s sexual behavior.

“Abstinence is a primary emphasis of the curriculum,” said Dehlin. “We really respect parents’ rights for their take on their children’s sex behavior.”

For that reason, the Okemos School Board addressed the public with these proposed changes. The general public saw the proposal on February 5 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the School Board Office, located at 4406 North Okemos Rd.

“We had two public views, but only one person showed up. To me it shows that one, parents trust what we’re doing and parents have busy lives,” Dehlin joked.

Once the public gives its approval or disproval, the proposal will be brought back to the school board for the final say.

It appears that the proposed changes are not causing much controversy. Nevertheless, neither Dehlin nor the Okemos School Board did not want to give the green light for the new curriculum without the parents’ permission. During the meeting, it was emphasized that the intentions and goals would not change if the proposal is implemented, but would only enhance what is already in place.

The Okemos school board will make a decision during their next meeting on February 11 at Central Elementary, located at 4406 Okemos Rd.

If the Board approves the proposal, Okemos teachers can start using the curriculum before the end of the 2007-2008 school year.

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