Published in the July 14, 2016 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
NORTH READING — A new healthy relationships curriculum is coming to North Reading Middle School next year after the School Committee unanimously signed off on the program last week.
Health education specialist Claudia Brown said the middle school’s new program pertains to building healthy relationships, which is designed to introduce “human sexuality content in a thoughtful, step by step process.”
Brown said fifth graders currently view a film entitled Just Around the Corner, which serves as a basic introduction to puberty. She said parents are invited to view the male and female versions of the film prior to students watching the movie. She said each elementary school nurse meets with groups of students after students watch the film to answer questions. Brown noted male physical education teachers participate in the question and answer session as well.
According to Brown, there is no human sexuality content taught in health classes until 10th grade. She said the Massachusetts Health Education Curriculum Frameworks and the National Health Education Standards guide the new program’s curriculum and instruction practices.
Brown said sixth graders will be reviewing the content in Just Around the Corner and said there will be a “pre–and post–test on reproductive anatomy.” She said the goal of the sixth grade curriculum is “effective communication.”
In seventh grade, Brown said students will learn about the benefits of abstinence and postponement, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and prevention. She said students will learn about decision-making and analyzing influences.
Brown said eighth graders will learn about “obstacles to abstinence” and the behaviors that increase the risk of STI transmission. She said the program will strive to teach students about making the right decisions and setting the right goals.
The health teacher said the grade 6 curriculum will be implemented this fall. She said the development of lessons and curriculum for grade 7 will be completed next summer and will be implemented in the fall of 2017. She said the grade 8 curriculum will be developed in the summer of 2018 and will be implemented in the fall of 2018.
Brown noted the School Committee’s policy for parental notification relative to sex education, Policy IDBA, stipulates: “In accordance with Massachusetts General Law 71, Section 32A (Parental Notification Law), parents and guardians of students have the right to be notified of curriculum that primarily involves human sexuality education or human sexuality issues and permits them to exempt their children from any portion of that curriculum without penalty. On an annual basis, the school department is to make instructional materials for said curriculum reasonably accessible to parents, guardians and others for inspection and review.”
School Committee member Jerry Venezia inquired how many students have opted out of health classes when human sexuality is discussed.
Brown said she has been teaching the grade 7 curriculum since 2007 and said she has only had four students opt out in the past nine years. She said she is “unaware” of any fifth graders opting out of watching the video.
School Committee member Mel Webster inquired what the plan is if more parents decide to opt their children out of the new program once its introduced.
Brown said a revised program “with different content infused” will be introduced to students who opt out of the new program.
“It’s very simple for us to create something different,” said Brown.