In 2016, the State Board of Education approved Oregon’s new Health Education Standards. These expanded standards recognize that human sexuality and health is far more than just learning about birth control and sextually transmitted diseases (STDs). These standards see sexual health and sexuality as multi-dimensional, and linked to the basic human needs of caring and meaningful relationships – sexual or otherwise.
Sex education has long been misunderstood as a curricular topic, though. Recently, several family groups have spoken out in opposition to Oregon’s health standards at school board meetings expressing concern ranging from worries about age-appropriateness of discussions to opposition to standards regarding gender identity.
OEA’s resolutions include support for a comprehensive sexuality education in Oregon that provides children and youth with information on consent, birth control, and diversities of culture, sexual orientation and gender identification.
During the 2019 Representative Assembly, the body passed New Business Item #10, which directs OEA to support the professional development, training, and curriculum needs of educators related to Oregon’s comprehensive sexuality framework, and to advocate for the resources educators need to implement the health standards.
There are eight over-arching health education standards, further broken down into several performance indicators by grade level. The indicators progress in age-appropriateness.
The standards are:
- Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention to enhance health.
- Students will analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid information, products, and services to enhance health.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to use decision-making skills to enhance health.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting skills to enhance health.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid or reduce health risks.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health.
Photo credit: www.jweekly.com
What is comprehensive sexuality education?
Oregon defines a comprehensive sexuality education as a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the emotional, physical and social aspects of human sexuality and health relationships. Sexuality education aims to equip children and you people with knowledge and skills that will empower them to:
- Realize their health, well-being, and dignity;
- Develop respectful social and sexual relationships;
- Consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others;
- Understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
Oregon passed three key laws related to sexuality education and a fourth law directed at preventing youth suicide. These important laws are based on current evidence and best practices to support students in their youth and beyond.
- Human Sexuality Education (2009)
This law requires that each school district provide age-appropriate human sexuality education courses as an integral part of the health education curriculum. It further states the instruction be medically accurate and comprehensive. (ORS 336.455)
- Healthy Teen Relationships (2013)
This law requires school district boards to adopt a policy stating that teen dating violence is unacceptable and prohibited. It also includes a requirement for age-appropriate education about teen dating violence and domestic violence for students in grades 7-12. (ORS 339.356)
- Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Education (2015)
This is often referred to as Erin’s Law, named after childhood sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn who lobbies nationally for this law. Oregon’s law requires schools to provide child sexual abuse prevention instruction in kindergarten through 12thgrade. Research has shown that the most effective way to prevent abuse is through education. Studies indicate that the likelihood of children being victimized decreases with education about sexual abuse, when children have high self-esteem, and when children are is likely to disclose abuse to a trusted adult.
- Adi’s Act – Senate Bill 52 (2019)
This act, named after Adi Staub, a Portland high school student who died by suicide in 2017, requires school districts to adopt plans and policies to prevent youth suicide. The bill targets suicide prevention for all students but specifically calls out students at high risk of suicide including LGBTQ+ students.
These four laws work together to promote the health and well-being of all Oregon students and work to prevent and reduce sexual violence, harassment, bullying, and suicide.
Local Tip: Many local school boards use the Oregon School Board Association policy supports and organization system. The majority of local policies mandated by these four laws and generally related to sexuality education can be found in Section I: Instruction (policies on standards, teaching, curriculum) and Section J: Students (policies on bullying, harassment and student safety).
Over the past several years, Oregon schools have had dwindling resources to implement new standards. Paired with No Child Left Behind’s singular focus on math and reading instruction, many districts have not invested in health education. This can leave educators feeling adrift among the new requirements and standards, public misconceptions about sex education, and the lack of strong curriculum or materials.
ODE has several resources ((https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/healthsafety/Pages/Sexuality-Education-Resources.aspx) educators can access for free to learn more about Oregon’s health education standards and the comprehensive sexuality education framework. These include a frequently asked questions document in English and Spanish, a letter from ODE Director Colt Gill, and an advocacy toolkit.
In 2018-19, ODE Sexual Health and School Health department hosted a 9-part webinar series titled “Sex Ed Made Simple.” These short, 1-hour webinars were recorded and are available on the Oregon Education Network in the Sex Ed group under the resources tab (link: https://www.oregonednet.org/groups/sex-ed#resources). The group includes other resources as well.
Tips for Using the Oregon Education Network Resources
- Coordinate a “watch party” for your content area, grade level team or PLC;
- Read the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force content one-pagers in a staff meeting to better understand the developmental trajectory of the health standards;
- Review the ODE Sexuality Education FAQ document at a building rep meeting;
- Find a potential guest speaker using ODE’s guidance for sex ed guest speakers;
Photo credit: Ameena Golding
Why Talking about LGBTQ+ Matters
According to the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, over 85% of all student suicide attempts in a year are made by students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Over 60% of those students who attempt suicide are transgender, and over 30% are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. (Source: ODE)
Students bullied at school are more likely to be chronically absent, drop out of school, and face mental health challenges and other negative health outcomes. In Oregon, more than 60% of LGBTQ+ students were victimized at school because of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender. Because of this data, GLSEN, a national organization focused on ensuring safe schools, declared Oregon schools as unsafe for LGBTQ+ students.
Oregon’s health standards emphasize learning how to respect all people regardless of their gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. These lesson and standards create a more tolerant, inclusive and accepting school environment that reduces bullying and harassment. Data shows that LGBTQ students attending schools with a more LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum are less likely to feel unsafe at school (GLSEN).
Examples of Oregon Standards regarding gender and sexual orientation:
- Recognize that there are many ways to express gender.
- Recognize the importance of treating others with respect including gender expression.
- Describe the importance of treating others with respect regarding gender expression and sexual orientation.
- Examine diversity among people, including age, disability, national origin, race, ethnicity, color, marital status, biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
- Differentiate between biological sex, sexual orientation, sexual identity and sexual behavior, gender identity and gender expression.
Lesson example: A discussion on how boys and girls can play with both dolls and trucks or play soccer and create art, or how anyone can wear any color – pink, blue, red, purple, etc. Teaching students that phrases like, “You throw like a girl!” are disrespectful and put down a specific gender. Creating a class chart of students’ favorite activities or student self-portraits expressing their favorite toys, activities, and colors.
Lesson example: Examine data on bullying and how harassment and bullying affects students over time. Write narratives about how they have experience bullying or how they feel about bullying and what actions they can take to prevent this kind of student harassment.
Lesson example: Look at census data or other demographic data sources to create charts for your school, district, city or region. Write a personal reflection on how students’ see themselves – or don’t – in that demographic data, or the story the data tells about their community.
Lesson example: Write a short expository essay defining key terms and identifying key differences between them. Consider how media influences how youth understand these terms.