WAUWATOSA, Wis. — The Wauwatosa School Board is expected on Monday to vote on changes to its curriculum, which includes new information on sexual orientation and gender identity and some lessons would begin as young as kindergarten.
When it comes to conversations about sexual education, the conversations can be tense.
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"This is a controversial area. We're dealing with young children, we're dealing with strongly held family values in many cases and when those collide or appear to collide, there are safeguards built into our system." said Dan Rossmiller with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
Rossmiller said school districts in Wisconsin have full control over whether they offer sexual education. Additionally, he said what is taught in these classes can vary from district to district because of that local control.
"The reason that we elect school boards locally is to have those boards reflect local community interested, values, needs, and requirements," he said.
Rossmiller said that, by law, parents and students get to make the decision on whether they'll opt out of courses.
With that being said, it is important to note that even while Wauwatosa's school board is considering updating its curriculum to include more conversations about sexual orientation and lessons on gender identity, these conversations are already happening in school districts statewide.
According to CDC data, 52% of secondary schools in Wisconsin require 6th, 7th, or 8th graders to complete a course about sexual orientation. 69.9% of secondary schools in the state require courses for 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grades. Meanwhile, 58.9% of secondary schools in the state require courses on sexual orientation for students in grades 6th, 7th, or 8th grade and 70.9% of secondary schools require those courses for students in grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.
Wauwatosa's new curriculum would introduce some concepts as early as kindergarten.
"I think we get confused when we hear about sex ed in K-4th grade and we think 'oh my gosh, we're teaching young people sex.' That's not what we're teaching them," said Michelle Slaybaugh, Director of Social Impact for an organization called SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change.
She said sexual education lessons at an early age are not about sex, but rather drive home the importance of personal boundaries, inclusion and kindness when people are different than oneself.
"It's important to remember that there is decades of research that show that comprehensive sex education promotes healthy relationships, reduces interpersonal violence, helps students make inform decisions and fosters inclusion and social emotional learning that can improve mental health," said Slaybaugh.
In Wauwatosa, the new curriculum would align with the National Sex Education Standards. Standards that Slaybaugh calls "building blocks" towards adulthood.
"We hope that more schools will adopt the National Sex Education Standards."
Michelle said she expects more Wisconsin school districts to update their curriculum to better align with those stands in the future.
As for the curriculum being reviewed in Wauwatosa, if approved, the changes would go into effect for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year and at the last school meeting on Aug. 8, many parents spoke out against the move.
The new proposal shows elementary school students beginning in kindergarten would learn about gender identity, including using the medical terms for body parts and consent.
Middle schoolers would have more lessons, including conversations about sexual orientation and different forms of gender expression.
By high school, students would have lessons that address safe sex practices and how to identify abuse in relationships.