Proposed curriculum in the Wauwatosa School District would include information on sexual orientation and gender identity

·3 min read

Passionate debate defined the Aug. 8 Wauwatosa School Board meeting after a presentation on a more comprehensive sex education curriculum that would include information on sexual orientation and gender identity lessons.

The updated human growth and development curriculum is proposed for the 2022-23 school year.

As the line for public comment filed to the back of the room at the meeting, parents ardently argued for and against the new curriculum.

“I stand here to vigorously protest the sexual content of your special program. I would feel ashamed and humiliated if I just stood by and let it happen without my vigorous protest,” said one parent.

Others said the new curriculum was not comprehensive enough, saying, It is "beyond time" to update the curriculum and that even the proposed version “is not inclusive enough.”

Parents line up to give public opinion at an Aug. 8 Wauwatosa School Board meeting.
Parents line up to give public opinion at an Aug. 8 Wauwatosa School Board meeting.

What does the proposed curriculum include?

For elementary schools, updates to the curriculum would start as early as kindergarten, including added lessons on defining gender, gender roles, identifying medically proper names of body parts and learning about consent in an everyday context. It would also add picture books that present more diverse backgrounds.

By eighth grade, middle schoolers would have learned about different gender identities, sexual orientations, sexual activities and how social relationships are influenced by all of those things.

By high school, students would learn about abuse in relationships, safe sex, analyzing information on social media and a more thorough understanding of sexual orientation, gender and other social identities.

Reaction to the curriculum

Wauwatosa parent, Wauwatosa East High School teacher and Gender and Sexuality Alliance adviser Jon Etter said he is pleased with the proposed curriculum and how it would increase inclusivity in Wauwatosa schools.

“I would feel thrilled and relieved if this passes because I feel optimistic that all students in our district — straight, queer, cisgender, transgender — will be will be provided with an education they need to be able to have safe healthy and happy lives,” Etter said.

Moreover, Etter said that as a teacher he has had students approach him to ask for more support and education about LGBTQ+ needs.

One student from McKinley Elementary School spoke in support of the new curriculum at the school board meeting.

“It’s body science, it’s not a big deal to learn about it, and I think if we do it together people can be more empathetic towards each other,” the student said.

This struck a chord with board member Sharon Muehlfeld, who said she was moved by the testimony of the young student.

Board members Jenny Hoag and Jessica Willis indicated their support for the curriculum.

But board member Michael E. Meier cited worries about interfering in the lives of families.

And a member of the external committee that helped review the curriculum, Ted Barthel, voiced objections to the fact that the district used the National Sex Education Standards as a foundation.

"There was absolutely no discussion on where the starting point would be ... without parent input the decision was made to use the National Sex Education Standards as a foundation," said Barthel, parent of a student in the district.

Reviewing the policy

The decision to review the curriculum was made in adherence with a policy that requires the curriculum to be reviewed every three years. Despite the policy, the curriculum had not been considered in 10 years and was pinpointed as a priority by the district.

Using the National Sex Education Standards as a foundation, the district created both an internal committee and an external committee comprising community members including teachers, healthcare professionals, caregivers, students and a local clergy member.

Using both committees, the district considered the curriculum for all grades and created the curriculum that was presented Aug. 8 school board meeting.

The curriculum would have an opt-out option for parents.

The fate of the curriculum is expected to be decided at the Aug. 22 School Board meeting, where board members will take into account feedback on the curriculum.

Beck Andrew Salgado can be reached at 512-568-4070 or Bsalgado@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Beck_Salgado.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wauwatosa School District proposes new sex education curriculum