Roaring Fork Schools board looks at sex ed curriculum | PostIndependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools board looks at sex ed curriculum

The Roaring Fork District school board is having a sex education talk.

Colorado is implementing new standards for sexual education in public schools in 2020, and Roaring Fork public schools appear to have acceptable curricula complying with the standards.

But the Board of Education, which heard a presentation on current sex education programming at its Jan. 9 meeting, is interested in the best ways to counter the wide availability of sexual content online and on social media at every district school in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt starting as soon as fifth grade.

“If some folks are not hearing any sex talk until seventh grade, is there information out there that that is soon enough?” board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger asked at the meeting.

“They’ve heard a lot by seventh grade that may or may not be correct,” she surmised.

The sexual education curriculum for district middle schools and most high schools is provided by Garfield County Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which has worked with the district for nearly eight years.

District staff plans to research what different fifth-grade programs are doing to address sex education across the district. In middle schools that include the fifth grade, there is health programing that includes “body talk,” but no districtwide curriculum, said Lindsay Hentschel, K-12 professional development and curriculum coordinator for the school district.

There is no standard curriculum for fifth-grade sex education, and it is unclear what the elementary schools with fifth-grade programs do.

Diana Andrew, PREP program manager, said she has been attending meetings on the state’s Comprehensive Health Standards for 2020, and so far does not foresee any compliance issues with the current curriculum.

Countywide, students who go through PREP’s standard courses say they are more likely to delay sex, according to recent PREP student surveys. And students who go through PREP’s curriculum for alternative high schools say they are more likely to engage in safe sex practices.

The teenage birthrate in Garfield County — an indicator of teen pregnancies — has decreased slightly in most areas over the past 10 years. But that may not be attributable solely to the PREP program. Across Colorado, the number of teen pregnancies dropped 47 percent between 2011 and 2018, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

PREP’s curriculum starts in sixth grade with very basic discussion of health and boundaries, and no real information about sex.

The lessons focus on defining and keeping boundaries in a number of situations, like peer pressure to cheat, lie or experiment with drugs, and one scenario about kissing.

The goal is to develop the skill of “how you can say no, how you can draw your line, and keep your friend. … Those skills are highly applicable when it comes to other things,” Andrews said.

In seventh grade, the PREP curriculum addresses sex and diseases directly, and helps students identify behaviors that could lead to sexual activity. The eighth grade level course includes more detail and demonstrates the use of condoms and other prophylactic devices.

The greatest difference between eighth and ninth grade is in application. Students see condoms demonstrated in eighth grade, and have the opportunity to practice condom application in the high school course. However, GSHS presents the sex education course in 10th grade, and PREP delivers it to high school freshmen.

The school administration would prefer the course be presented earlier. Superintendent Rob Stein said he would find an answer for why GSHS teaches its sex ed course later, “when it seems the barn door might already be open” by the 10th grade.

“It’s the optimal time to teach our program,” GSHS principal Paul Freeman said in a separate interview. GSHS implemented its own curriculum before the district adopted PREP’s.

“For us, at the moment, the balance of judgment is that the students are already informed about the mechanics, by virtue of the education they’ve had in middle school,” Freeman said. By 10th grade, all students are ready for the mature conversations in the school’s curriculum.

“If students weren’t getting anything in middle school, I would be much more concerned,” Andrews said. “I would advocate for ninth grade, but if it’s fitting, I would rather they got it later than got nothing.”

Andrews added, “We really find the crux of the content, and the skill building, and where we can make the biggest difference, is in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed an old position for Lindsay Hentschel. She is now the K-12 professional development and curriculum coordinator for Roaring Fork Schools.

tphippen@postindependent.com