Sex education classes in Millard Public Schools will cover the birds and bees, and a whole lot more.
Students will learn about contraception, pregnancy and disease, with an emphasis on abstinence. They will delve into good and bad relationships, breakups and the basic biology of reproduction.
Students also will explore new challenges — the perils of sexting and vaping.
They will learn what it means to give consent to sexual activity.
It’s what’s been left out, however, that dismays advocates for what’s called comprehensive sex education.
The Millard school board will vote Monday night to approve new instructional materials for the district’s updated sex education curriculum.
Unlike the Omaha Public Schools, Millard’s sex ed teachers will be silent on sexual orientation and gender identity. Teachers won’t demonstrate how to use contraceptive methods — no condoms on fingers or bananas. And there are subtle differences. For instance, discussions of birth control will emphasize their limitations, to support the district’s pro-abstinence approach.
Conservatives are generally pleased with the curriculum and the decision to leave some intimate discussions and controversial issues to parents. But they are not happy that the curriculum still includes some hard-boiled scenarios, including one involving oral sex.
Essentially, Millard is staying the course on the pro-abstinence policy it first approved in 1992. There are no major substantive changes to the curriculum, which was last updated in 2007. Back then, concerns were only just emerging about sexting — the sending of sexually explicit photos or messages — and vaping — the inhalation of flavored vapors often laced with nicotine.
Omaha adopted its updated sex education curriculum in 2016, amid a chorus of criticism from conservatives who thought it went too far.
The final step in Millard’s adoption comes Monday when school board members will consider approving the textbooks, videos, notebooks and online materials used to teach the courses.
About 50 people examined the Millard materials at two public review sessions in April. Their feedback prompted changes to a high school activity notebook the district purchased for classroom use.
Officials removed two hypothetical scenarios involving homosexual attraction. The scenarios, which officials say slipped through initial vetting, conflicted with the school board’s direction to exclude discussions of sexual orientation.
Officials also deleted part of a separate student activity in the notebook. The activity involved a list of “Top 10 Reasons for Choosing Abstinence.” Teachers won’t use reason No. 8: “So your parents won’t be disappointed.” The passage had been questioned by some who believed it focused too much on shame and presumed that all parents felt the same way.
Otherwise, the materials will be recommended to the board as presented to the public.
The Millard curriculum addresses most of the same topics as the recently adopted OPS curriculum, with the notable exceptions of gender identity, sexual orientation and abortion.
When students ask about those topics, or about masturbation and transgender people, district policy says teachers will refer students back to their parents.
School board President Mike Pate, a Republican, notes that while gender identity and orientation are not specifically addressed, the curriculum is written in an inclusive, gender neutral way that leaves room for relationships of all kinds.
“We don’t get into very specific details on defining what types of relationships should exist, and that’s, I think, the proper way to do it,” he said.
Pate said he read the materials and is “pretty comfortable with it.”
“I didn’t see anything that I felt was objectionable to either my personal beliefs or to what the community might find objectionable,” he said.
Board member Amanda McGill Johnson said she would have preferred including gender identity and orientation.
McGill Johnson, a Democrat, was not on the board in November 2016 when members approved the guiding framework on which the curriculum is based. She was sworn in during January 2017.
“But I think that the curriculum fits what was passed by the board, and I don’t plan to have any major objections when it comes to a vote,” she said.
Millard typically updates curriculum every seven years, a schedule that would slate the next update for 2025.
McGill Johnson said the curriculum has some positive pieces, including topics found in what’s referred to as comprehensive sex education, she said.
“And we do everything we can to be medically accurate in those pieces,” she said.
She said it’s important to have realistic scenarios discussed in the classroom.
Students “are exposed to so much, whether they’ve lived through it themselves or they’ve seen it in the media, television and music, that I think it’s important to have adult conversations with them,” she said.
When OPS updated its sex ed curriculum, scenarios were hotly debated.
Scenarios are popular with some sex education advocates who say they make lessons more engaging for students.
But their sometimes gritty depiction of teen sexual activity, intended to reflect real-life situations, has prompted criticism for being too explicit, giving kids ideas and normalizing behaviors that some people find offensive.
OPS officials deleted or reworded some scenarios from their curriculum after deciding they weren’t a good fit for the community.
The scenarios that Millard deleted were in an activity called “Pressure Situations”. The scenarios described students having feelings of gay and lesbian attraction.
One scenario began: “Tyler has felt attraction to guys. His buddies always bug him about why he’s not making moves on girls ...”
The Tyler character wonders if he should have sex with a girl “to prove he’s not gay.”
The other scenario started out: “Kelly has a secret crush on a girl. She doesn’t know exactly what it means and hasn’t told anyone. Her parents would freak out ...”
It focused on the confusion she was feeling, and her wondering if having sex would help her figure things out.
District spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman said the scenarios “do not align with our framework and will not be used in the curriculum.”
Multiple scenarios remain in the materials, including one describing a girl, Annie, getting drunk at a party and going along with popular girls who were performing oral sex on boys.
Maris Bentley, of the conservative group Nebraskans for Founders’ Values, said the curriculum is generally “very good.”
The deleted scenarios were the “most egregious” in the materials, she said.
“We commend Millard for the removal of those two homosexual scenarios, and thank them for actually listening and responding to the comments and concerns of many in the community,” she said.
Bentley, a former Millard resident who is running for Nebraska State Board of Education, said her group would still like the oral sex scenario deleted, as well as some role-playing scenarios that depict intimate situations.
“These are topics that should be discussed in the home where parents are able to impart their beliefs and values in the process,” she said.
Advocates of comprehensive sex education see a danger in leaving out gender identity and sexual orientation.
Jenna Lopez, a school social worker at Papillion-La Vista South High School and the Papillion-La Vista IDEAL school, said that approach could jeopardize the safety and well-being of gay, lesbian and transgender kids by sending a message that something’s wrong with them.
“The message is that even though you exist and your classmates are walking the halls with you, we need to leave it up to their parents to decide if it is OK for them to know about the LGBTQ part of your identity or not, and leave it open to allow them to deem this bad or wrong,” she said.
Lopez, a Millard parent, said she has concerns about the way that the materials advocate abstinence.
“They were all very shame-based and clearly depict a very specific value system that implies sex is bad or wrong outside of the context of marriage,” she said.
She said she is glad to see the line about disappointing parents was removed from the list of reasons for choosing abstinence.
On the positive side, she said a video on sexting offers valuable information, especially to parents who did not grow up with texting.
“The district’s definition of ‘consent’ is great and up to date,” she said.
The materials say that consent is “a clear ‘yes’ to sexually activity; not saying ‘no’ does not mean you have given consent.”
However, she said the lesson is taught in the 10th grade and the concept of consent should be taught in elementary school.