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RFSD continues the complex discussion on comprehensive sex education

The April 26th Roaring Fork School District board meeting centered heavily around the adoption of their new health curriculum, led first by Anna Cole, the Chief of Student and Family Services. She began her presentation by acknowledging the variety of opinions expressed on the matter in previous meetings and work sessions.

ANNA COLE:
"Folks feel really passionate about this. It is personal and it brings up a ton of questions, and so, I do want us to pause and frame and, and just reflect and come to this conversation with a great deal of gratitude. And we are really lucky. We're not Florida, and we're not California, and we're lucky to live in a community where we still have a diversity of political opinions and opinions on things like comprehensive sexual education in schools."

Public comment was thorough, with fourteen different speakers coming forward. A few deeply concerned parents, some with conspiracy theories or complaints about the process of writing the curriculum, and quite a few people who work as sex educators or with children. Stephanie Hirsch, who moderates a Facebook group called “Roaring Fork Moms”.

STEPHANIE HIRSCH:
"So I believe the curriculum that a lot of parents wanna talk about today is actually opening up the door for kids to prematurely explore one another's bodies. But I also feel concerned that we're opening up the door to assault. So my mother taught me as a kid that adults who talk about sex or private parts in front of children were dangerous. And they are. And they were."

Maureen Bierman came next, emphasizing her belief that the sex education and the proposed materials is age appropriate and encouraging the board to adopt the curriculum with the ability for opposed parents to opt out.

MAUREEN BIERMANN:
"So like the sexual assaults that Stephanie was discussing, I share her concerns. I would never wanna hear about that happening in our schools. But this curriculum actually can help prevent that. It can prevent intimate partner violence. Uh, it teaches students kids to increase, to have increased appreciation for sexual diversity, and it improves environments for our L G B T Q students, this is really important. As we know, there's a lot of excessive suicide attempts, for example, in our LGBTQ population. This shows a decrease in that for those. Those students, inclusive sex education, such as the one you that Anna had presented today, results in better mental health among L G B T Q students, including lowered reports of suicidal thoughts as well as decreased use of drugs or alcohol before sex and increased school attendance among the student population."

JR Coarsey’s comments heavily mentioned conspiracy theories, and his concerns of the school district contributing to “oversexualizing children”.
Additional commentary included frustration from parents over the communication about the meetings, and several asked why their kids would have a program where they would need to opt them out in the first place. Michael Cerveny was not shy about his own views regarding the content in the presentation.

MICHAEL CERVENY:
"I do believe there's a time and place to talk about certain specific things. But I do not believe the time and place in a curriculum that is particularly focused on this transgender L G B T Q agenda is not appropriate as a curriculum from K through 12 on a daily basis. I think about this term opt-out. I have a boy in sixth grade. We have opt him out and there is no opt-out. Let's be honest. This is a gender-based curriculum. That is a belief that that is being forced on her kids whether they want it or not, whether I want it or not."

Ashley Stahl, a local PFLAG member and transgender woman who works as a mentor with LGBTQ+ kids, came forward to make her stance on the curriculum.

ASHLEY STAHL:
"My perspective's been informed by my own personal experience as a transgender woman. Living and working in this valley. My years of mentoring and working with youth, uh, in my experience working with the very LGBTQ plus students that this decision will impact most and their families. To me, this decision's a no-brainer regardless of the opinions of some of those in this room.
Our community is a beautiful mixture of kids from all ends of the gender and sexuality spectrum. If we care for the kids in our community, then we need to provide all of them with the tools that they'll need to keep themselves safe. Study after study has shown the effectiveness of educating our children about these topics, but we undermine that effectiveness when we exclude one group from that education. The role of a public education system is precisely that, to provide equal education to every child. If you fail to adopt these changes, then you'll be denying a portion of your student body access to the same information that you're providing their cisgender and heterosexual peers."

Lorna Littner, a sex educator who came with her husband noted:

LORNA LITTNER:
"One of the [other] speakers talked about a study, many studies that show that sexuality education provides a foundational understanding that is essential. For children, if we accept that sexuality is a part of who we are as people, if we withhold information from children, it's not gonna make their curiosity about sex and sexuality go away. What it's going to do is just create a need for them to go to other sources to find out and satisfy their curiosity."

A full recording of the meeting can be found on the school district’s youtube channel.

Hattison Rensberry has a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Drawing, but has worked for newsrooms in various capacities since 2019.
She also provides Editorial Design for the Sopris Sun.