Curious about the books, worksheets and videos that will help teach Omaha kids about sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and the dangers of drug use?

In the coming weeks, Omaha Public Schools parents and teachers will be able to leaf through and grade different health and sex education textbooks and handouts at curriculum nights.

Their input — which books approach sex in an age-appropriate way, what worksheets best describe traits of healthy relationships — will help the district select materials for human growth and development classes.

The curriculum review and purchase process, outlined at Wednesday night's school board meeting, is the next step in OPS's update of its health and sex education program.

In January, after months of fierce and often emotional debate, the school board approved a new set of sex education content standards for the first time in 30 years.

The adopted changes include:

a greater emphasis on responsible use of social media across grade levels

more discussion of sexual harassment, abuse and trafficking

discussion of gender roles and stereotypes starting in sixth grade

a lesson on sexual orientation and gender identity beginning in seventh grade

inclusion of abortion and emergency contraception in 10th-grade lessons on birth control.

Human growth and development classes start in fourth grade, where students learn about puberty and hygiene, and progress through middle and high school, where students learn more about healthy eating, drugs and alcohol, and tips for both preventing pregnancy and avoiding sex altogether. Parents can opt their children out of the classes.

OPS administrators reviewed 25 different health and sex education textbooks, websites and other materials.

Some were automatically discounted for their ties to Planned Parenthood — a frequent concern of those opposed to the sex education update.

Others were ruled out because the publisher or organization is going out of business or because the materials wouldn't cover enough of the topics included in the new standards.

Fifteen will be up for inspection by parents, community members, human growth and development teachers and school nurses, who teach classes in the elementary grades.

"We're really marketing this, and we have a communication plan, so parents know about these nights," said Assistant Superintendent ReNae Kehrberg. "We want them to come out and look at these curricular materials."

The options include textbooks from big-name publishers like McGraw-Hill and Pearson, a popular abstinence-based program called "Worth the Wait" distributed by a Texas health system and "Step Up, Speak Out," a curriculum on sexual harassment, assault and dating violence developed by the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition.

Some of the materials are already used by surrounding districts. One option for elementary and middle school classes, called "the Great Body Shop," is used by Millard, while another course called "Teen Health" is taught in Elkhorn and Bennington schools.

Parents and community members, especially those who fought against overhauling the curriculum, have pressed OPS to be transparent with parents and provide copies of all textbooks, videos and handouts for review.

"Our parents need time to prepare and properly review the information, and there's so much of it," said Charlene Edmundson, who has grandkids in the district.

Curriculum review nights will be held at four OPS high schools at the end of this month and the beginning of March. There, attendees will be able to inspect materials OPS might purchase and fill out scoring guides to assess whether they're age-appropriate, inclusive, contain real-world relevance and engage students, among other criteria.

Materials that get the stamp of approval from parents and teachers will be piloted in the classroom this spring. Teachers will vote on the textbooks they get to test drive, and the school board is expected to vote on a final curriculum purchase in May.

The new curriculum will make its way into classrooms starting this fall.

The Omaha Education Association's vice president, Bridget Donovan, expressed concern during public comment about the rapid pace of the curriculum adoption, saying she worried that teachers wouldn't have time to learn the materials.

"We need to get curriculum into the hands of teachers before school is out," she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1210, erin.duffy@owh.com

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