Friday, September 10, 2010

Merrill School Board Stands Up For Healthy Youth

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin would like to send three cheers to the Merrill school board and the Mauston’s school district’s Human Growth and Development Advisory Committee for affirming that fact-based, comprehensive sexuality education should be taught in their local classrooms. The Merrill school board and Mauston’s board committee made decisions that will help young people in their district get the information and life skills they need to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

We look forward to the final approval of comprehensive sexuality education by the Mauston School District on September 20th as well as in the Wonewoc-Center, New Lisbon and Royall schools. These Juneau County schools received a memo from our legal department on Tuesday, September 7th refuting the claims by county district attorney Scott Southworth that teachers who provide a comprehensive human growth and development curriculum at their school could face prosecution.

Everyone can agree that our schools should make sure students get a quality education. After the passage of the Healthy Youth Act this year (find a PDF of the law online), schools will be held to a higher standard for helping young people get the facts about reproduction and health. This standard of instruction is important for the public health of Wisconsin communities, large and small.

Some community members in districts that are currently considering their options in regard to sex ed have expressed concerns with parts of the law that mention non-discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students and the law’s inclusion of the proper use of contraception. These concerns may be based on misinformation.

The law says that instruction must be non-discriminatory: teachers who use gender-neutral language or who don’t assume that all students in their classrooms are heterosexual are better able to effectively teach everyone in their class. And the proper use of contraception isn’t like a doctor’s visit: students should have basic instruction that is right for their age, that includes why and when people use contraception, and shares the facts about how contraceptive options work.

Parents and schools should remember that opt-out provisions still exist in the Healthy Youth Act. Parents who do not want their children to learn about contraception have the right to review the curriculum and work with their school to make alternate arrangements for their student. Schools should provide an adequate alternative lesson plan that ensures that the student will be treated with equality, dignity and respect for non-participation on that day.

Schools that have not yet confirmed that they will be teaching sex ed with a comprehensive, fact-based model have until September 30th to let parents know what will be taught. The Department of Public Instruction has excellent resources for administrators and parents who want to understand what the new law means for their local schools. The ACLU of Wisconsin also has resources on our youth rights issue page for parents to learn about what questions they have the right to ask about sex ed in their schools and for individuals who want to ensure that all students have access to comprehensive sex ed.

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