Sex Ed and Permeable Boundaries Covered at School Board

Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 3:26 pm
Ann Nichols

Above: Mary Ellen Vrbanac presenting to the School Board last night.

Last night’s meeting of the East Lansing Board of Education included a public hearing on sex ed curriculum as well as a presentation on Schools of Choice and Permeable Boundaries.

The public hearing on sex ed began with a presentation by ELPS Sex Education Director Mary Ellen Vrbanac, who reported that the District’s Sex Ed Advisory Board was currently working on a number of things, including high school curriculum aimed at reducing rates of teen pregnancy. She said that that the sex ed Advisory Board had found a video called “I Wish” sponsored by United Way of Jackson County that did a good job of showing the consequences of teen pregnancy from multiple perspectives. Although the video is not currently available for online viewing, it may be viewed by making an appointment with Vrbanac.

The Advisory Board has also looked at 2015 edition of “Puberty: The Wonder Years,” which is sex ed curriculum for grades four, five and six. According to Vrbanac, the new edition “offers some very beneficial updates” and reordering of materials including separation into different binders, rubrics, a “teacher-friendly website,” more support for parents on gender identity issues, the use of gender-neutral names, and pre- and post-testing.

The Sex Ed Advisory Board will recommend adopting units on genetics and refusal skills, but needs more study before adopting a lesson instructing sixth grade students on use of condoms. Some parent resources will be available online, while other materials may be seen only by asking the curriculum’s author, Wendy Sellers. Parents also have full access to the materials if they come in to school and ask to see the binders.

During public comment on the sex ed curriculum, one person, Alice Dreger, parent of a junior in the high school, addressed the Board of Education. (Dreger is the Publisher and Board President of ELi, but was speaking only for herself at the meeting.) Dreger expressed her concern that the District had previously been out of compliance with State of Michigan requirements for sex ed, and had risked up to $80,000 in fines as the result. She said she hoped the Board of Education would make sure it was now in compliance.

Dreger also stated that it was inappropriate for Wendy Sellers to function in what she called “dual roles” with regards to sex ed curriculum. “Wendy Sellers is playing two conflicting roles, and this has to stop,” said Dreger. “She is functioning as a consultant paid by our government to tell us about our sex ed curriculum options. She is then also functioning as a vendor of her own curriculum product, ‘Puberty: The Wonder Years.’ We are therefore paying her twice as taxpayers—once to consult for us on which curriculum we should use, and then again to sell us her curriculum.” Dreger said she’d brought this to the attention of two board members since 2015 and have received no response from them.

The Board also got an overview of the process for Schools of Choice and the Permeable Boundary process from Gail Gillengerten, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent. (The presentation was based on materials available here and here.) Under Schools of Choice (SOC), a state-administered system, children who live in other districts may be permitted to attend East Lansing Public schools. Under the Permeable Boundary (PB) system, parents or guardians of an elementary school-aged children who in the ELPS district can request that their children attend an elementary school other than the one they would be automatically assigned.

Several Trustees had questions and comments on both SOC and PB. “I don’t think it’s a secret that I have a major opposition to [the PB] process…it needs to be thoughtfully reviewed in terms of class size equity and district equity. This body needs to decide how it will deal with PB and my recommendation is that we do away with it,” said Trustee Kate Powers.

Trustees Hillary Henderson and Erin Graham agreed that there were problems with the PB process, but felt it had some validity. “We have gotten to the point of school-shopping instead of need,” said Henderson. Trustee Nichole Martin agreed, adding that she’s “a PB parent” and that “lots of people are leaving her neighborhood school and ‘school-shopping.’”

All Trustees agreed that the matter of PB required further discussion, possibly within one of the Board’s several existing committees.

Two parents used the general public comment period to express concerns about the Intercultural Dialogue program at ELHS. ELi will have a separate report on that issue.