Loudoun school leaders say it’s time to update the district’s sex education courses to include lessons on dating violence and human trafficking in middle and high school.
When Family Life Education Supervisor Sheila J. Jones took over the program two years ago, she found that few revisions had been made since the 1990s. Her department has since created a working group to do a thorough review of the curriculum, in an effort to align with new state requirements, at minimum, and go even further to equip students to make good decisions in their dating lives.
The working group was made up of principals, assistant principals, Loudoun Health Department Director David Goodfriend, and parents who have raised concerns in the past about the FLE curriculum.
Jones presented the group’s findings to the School Board’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee last week. She ran down a list of books and materials that the group is recommending be a part of the FLE program. “There isn’t just one thing that’s going to fit our needs, but the fact that we can incorporate evidence-based and evidence-informed curriculum will be a big bonus for our kids,” she said.
The elementary material includes “Your Body Book” by McGraw-Hill education company and “Health World” curriculum which includes lesson plans, worksheets and videos that covers a variety of topics, including bullying and drug addiction. In middle school, the recommendation is to use “Health World” and McGraw Hill’s “Teen Health with Human Sexuality.” High school resources include “Glencoe Health” and “Glencoe Health with Human Sexuality.”
FLE teachers have begun training with additional resources as well, including Safe Dates, which covers human trafficking and self-defense related to dating violence. Jones is recommending that health and physical education instructors teach situational awareness and dating violence using free Secure Higher Ed training. “It teaches self-defense, how to get out of sketchy situations—for lack of a better term—and how to empower kids,” Jones said.
It’s not as easy as adopting just one textbook, she noted. Each grade level has different needs, and she wants to incorporate the many resources around Northern Virginia that have yet to be tapped into.
As the program is revamped, Jones’ team is working with Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter (LAWS), the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, and others to create new curriculum.
“Topics like human trafficking—we don’t have information and lessons that address that right now. But there are so many resources locally to help us address it,” Jones said.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) last year requires all high school FLE programs to incorporate age-appropriate lessons on “the prevention of dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.”
As the program undergoes changes, the goal is to incorporate more evidence-based curriculum and “more on the scientific side,” she said. “We train our FLE teachers to report the information and not to counsel. We’re not school guidance counselors,” she said. “And our teachers understand that.”
Parents will still be allowed to opt their children out of sex education lessons if they find the material to be objectionable.
School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), who chairs the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, asked Jones and other administrators from the Instruction Department to make it easy for parents and her colleagues on the board to see what changes are being proposed.
She referred to changes to sex education programs in neighboring counties that raised parents’ concerns. Two years ago, Fairfax County began teaching teenagers in grades 7 through 10 about gender identity and transgender issues.
“Given what has happened in other counties … I think it would behoove us to make it as public as possible,” Turgeon said.
Loudoun County’s sex education curriculum has had few critiques in recent years. Many community members lined up at School Board meetings in spring of 2016 to praise the work of the county’s sex education instructors. Faced with a tight budget season that year, the board voted to eliminate nine out of the 19 Family Life Education teaching positions. The 10 remaining teachers rotate schools to teach the more sensitive material, while health and physical education instructors teach the more general material.
Throughout this school year, the teachers will begin training on the new material. The new curriculum will be completely rolled out next school year.