High School Health Class Curriculum - UPDATE
As you may be aware, over the last few weeks we have been reviewing and evaluating our practice for allowing guest speakers in our schools. This review emerged after one of our Strath Haven High School students raised concern about our sexual education program during our July 23rd School Board meeting. This student very eloquently outlined what she saw as a troubling presentation and after-class conversation with a speaker from the Amnion Pregnancy Center in 2016.
This presenter was one of several speakers who presented to students during 10th grade health classes on topics that are part of our state-mandated health curriculum. He was not invited to return after initial concerns were raised by students at the time, however another speaker from the same group did speak to students the following year. This group provides presentations for many local schools.
Our administrative team has spent a considerable amount of time investigating this issue, with the ultimate educational goal of presenting factual and balanced information in our classes that empowers students to make healthy choices.
Our team reviewed the materials Amnion presented in our classes and found that while the majority were accurate and factual, a portion about romantic relationships was not purely factual. In addition, we believe that some conversations with students after the class were not factually based, and a student reported being given a Bible by the presenter. Again, this speaker was not asked to return.
Amnion was one of several speakers invited into 10th grade health classes to speak about a variety of topics as part of the sexual education curriculum. Per PA Department of Education standards, sexual education must cover a number of issues, including: relationships, abstinence, and STD/HIV prevention. Speakers in our classes included representatives from Planned Parenthood, Domestic Abuse Project, Gay Straight Alliance, Philadelphia Narcotics Bureau, Ridley Police Task Force, and Women Against Rape. All had been asked to present factual information about a variety of topics that fit the state’s curriculum guidelines. Topics covered included addiction, bullying, mental illness, stress management, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, peer education, and teen pregnancy.
Moving forward, core sexual education topics will be covered by our own Wallingford-Swarthmore teachers, not outside presenters. This will allow us to more closely control the information presented, again with our goal of presenting factual, balanced information that empowers our students to make healthy choices.
In addition, we have drafted a new policy that provides expectations and guidelines for guest speakers. The School Board is expected to review it for First Reading at its August 20th public meeting. This policy will ensure that any guest speaker in our schools and his/her topic is relevant, that he/she is qualified to speak on the topic, and that there must be a means of ensuring that potentially controversial topics are presented in a balanced and factually accurate manner. As such, Amnion will not be returning to Wallingford-Swarthmore.
Our new administrative guidelines for guest speakers are comprehensive. They include the expectation that there must be a legitimate and reasonable connection between the curriculum and the speaker’s presentation; that information presented is accurate, factual, and consistent with the curriculum; that teachers must submit an approval form to their principal when inviting a guest speaker; and that the presentation may be ended by a staff educator if it is deemed inappropriate. All guest speakers must sign a form stating they understand and will abide by the District’s guidelines.
We regularly review our curriculum through the vertical team process, and we appreciate the opportunity this issue has given us to take a fresh look at what’s being presented in our sexual education classes. Our new guidelines will help ensure that any outside speaker in any class across the School District is presenting information that we, as educators, feel is appropriate, balanced, relevant, factual, and fair.
We appreciate your comments and support as we investigated and addressed this issue. Thank you for your support for our schools.
Lisa A. Palmer, Ed.D.
Superintendent of School