Caldwell requires permission slips for intercourse ed. Academics say it won’t work in all places. | Native Information
Seventh-grade life science teacher Melyssa Ferro drew up a special code with one of her students last year after the girl’s parents said they were uncomfortable with some of the curricula in Ferro’s sex education department. If the girl felt uncomfortable in class, all she had to do was raise her hand. Ferro automatically told the student that she could drink some water without knowing that the girl wanted to drop out of class for this part of the conversation.
“I let them set the limits of their own interactions,” said Ferro, Idaho’s 2016 Teacher of the Year.
This is typical practice in Ferro’s class at Syringa Middle School, where she teaches a science-based sex education curriculum called FLASH. Students are encouraged to ask questions, protect the privacy of themselves and other people, and share questions or topics that feel too private. Parents are asked to check the curriculum in advance. And in order for a student to be able to attend the class at all, the legal guardians must sign a piece of paper with their express permission. In other words, parents need to sign up.
Idaho lawmakers are considering compulsory schools across the state to adopt this approach and are encouraging parents to enroll in comprehensive sex education courses. In Idaho, parents can opt out of sex education if they wish.
A Senate bill proposed by Republican MP Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls would maintain this “opt-out” option for basic discussions about the anatomy and physiology of sexual reproduction. However, if the class covers the subjects of human sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity, parents would need to explicitly consent.
Proponents of the bill say parents have more control over the content their children learn. Critics argue it could prevent children from learning important information about sexual safety and healthy relationships just because their parents forgot to sign a permit.
Ferro and his Syringa teacher Maggie Stover have encouraged parents to enroll for years as required by the guidelines of the Caldwell School District. The teachers are almost 100% involved in their gender-specific units.
However, Ferro shares concern that the requirement for a nationwide enrollment process could deny vulnerable students access to sex education.
“We had to work really hard to make this process as smooth as possible,” Ferro EdNews said in a 2020 interview. “In a traditional school district where they don’t do the things we do to build culture, there will be a large number of students who do not have the opportunity to actually receive these classes. “
Ferro and Stover teach sex education as part of their life science curriculum every spring. The timing gives teachers the entire fall semester to build relationships with parents through parent-teacher conferences, phone calls, emails, and face-to-face visits to the students’ neighborhood. Teachers have also spent years tweaking the materials they send parents weeks prior to the gender unit and inviting them to review the material.
In 2020, Ferro taught three sections on sex ed. On the first day of the unit, she had two students who had not submitted permits. On the second day she was 100% involved.
Stover taught six sections. She had a student who did not attend because her parents never returned the signed form. In most cases, Ferro said, if a student doesn’t take part, it’s because they didn’t get the paper signed, not because their parents objected to the material.
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Stover said parents rarely ask their questions about the material, so it doesn’t take much time to go through the sign up process.
When the attendance is almost perfect, Ferro sometimes asks whether it is worth the effort.
“It comes to a point where you are wondering, ‘Why do I have to bother to get all these signatures and check them off in the grade book when I get 100 percent anyway?’ Said Ferro, “It’s kind of frustrating.”
Ferro hasn’t visited the Idaho Legislature to testify about Ehardt’s opt-in bill. If pushed to take sides, she told EdNews that she would likely speak against it.
Some parents of their students feel uncomfortable bringing up sex education topics with their students, and others are busy doing multiple jobs to make ends meet. If her students don’t get information from a reliable adult, she fears they will turn to questionable sources like her friends, social media, or the internet instead.
“Students could make better decisions about their bodies if they have facts to help them make those decisions,” Ferro said. “It is not in the best interests of Idaho students to put in place barriers that make it difficult for all of our students to access this information.”