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Sex ed changes would give younger Wauwatosa students more information

Dec. 19, 2012

A proposed new Wauwatosa Public Schools curriculum in human growth and development emphasizes presenting some material on sexual anatomy to elementary students a grade earlier than in the past, and including new material, especially at the high school level, on sexual identity and sexual orientation.

A presentation to the School Board this week, led by Director of Student Learning Beth Erenberger, was a walk-through of material developed to meet state legal requirements, board policies, national standards and recommendations from a local advisory committee made up of educators, clergy members, parents, a School Board member, and, input from medical professionals.

Erenberger said the Tosa sex education curriculum was outdated, and did not meet national or state standards or current board policy.

National Sexuality Education Standards, published last year, emphasize the large number of young people at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. According to the document, 750,000 women ages 15 to 19 become pregnant in the U.S. annually, 80 percent of which are unintended. And young people ages 13 to 29 account for about a third of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections each year, the largest share of any age group. Another theme in the national standards is harassment of gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Amy Powers, a teacher at Underwood Elementary School who worked on the curriculum, said the new plan was intended to prepare students for the future. "We should provide students with information before they would actually need it," she said.

Changes to elementary school curriculum include introducing the use of proper names for body parts, including male and female anatomy, in second grade, a year earlier than in the past. Fourth-grade material will include descriptions of male and female reproductive systems, including body parts and their functions. This is also a year earlier than past practice.

Fourth-grade girls would be taught to understand the process of menstruation and proper use and disposal of sanitary pads. This material also would be presented a year earlier than in the past.

New information on sexual orientation, gender roles, stereotypes, tolerance and dignity, and influences would be scattered throughout the elementary years, beginning in first grade.

For example, first-graders would learn to describe differences and similarities in how boys and girls may be expected to act. In second grade, students would be provided with examples of how friends, family, media, society and culture influence views of how boys and girls think they should act. By third grade, students would learn to demonstrate ways students can work together to promote dignity and respect for all people, according to the curriculum documents.

The activities involved in the instruction throughout the new plan emphasize analysis and critical thinking, just as a student would employ those skills in any academic topic.

The curriculum explores sexual identity in a more detailed way for 10th-graders.

General topics include influences on one's attitudes about sexual orientation, understanding differences in sexual orientation, tolerance for those who are different, and learning to identify stereotypes.

Another 10th-grade theme is learning to understand the challenges faced by gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and understanding the negative consequences arising from stereotyping.

One exercise in this segment is writing stories "about being the opposite sex for a day," the document says.

The board took no action on the curriculum presentation. It will come back again for a vote.

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