The Department of Public Instruction wants to keep clear of any “values” teaching on sexual education, leaving the choices on curriculum and content up to local school districts, according to DPI Health Education Coordinator Sandra Tibke in a recent interview with PlainsDaily. According to Tibke, her job is to “provide solid health facts and materials” and nothing more.
Tibke’s stated DPI position appears to contradict the upcoming, 2 day free conference DPI is sponsoring in partnership with a Minnesota Planned Parenthood chapter in May. Planned Parenthood is widely recognized for its political activism in promoting abortion rights for women and distribution of birth control in schools. ND is the only state which does not have a Planned Parenthood chapter.
In addition, the conference’s keynote speaker is Kurt Conklin, School Health Project Coordinator at SIECUS (Informtion and Education Council of the US). SEICUS materials state that one of its primary purposes is to “work to create a world that ensures social justice and sexual rights,” and believes that sex education “should recognize the diversity and beliefs represented in the community, and complement and augment the sexuality education children receive from their families, religious groups and communities.”
Asked about the apparent conflict of interest, Tibke said that her job is “to simply deliver factual information regarding sexual health” to ND state. Tibke added while she may not agree with everything Planned Parenthood does, they do have “really good materials” on helping families communicate, and that she prefers to find common ground and work with non-profits from there.
When asked if she contacted First Choice Clinic in Fargo to also partner with her, Tibke admitted that she had not. First Choice provides the “Make a Sound Choice” abstinence curriculum adopted by many school districts in the state.
Tibke defended her department’s choice of speakers and sponsors for the teacher training conference by saying that her department receives an annual grant from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to promote HIV education, and receipt of the grant funds depends upon increasing percentages of state teachers reporting they have received the information. Conklin’s organization has a formal agreement with the CDC to provide school training.
Other conference speakers include Planned Parenthood award winner Nora Gelperin, M.Ed., who oversees Answer’s Sexuality Education Training Initiative, and Minnesota Department of Education trainer Geri Graham, MS, CDCP, who was a health and physical education teacher for 30 years.
“There’s nothing controversial about the conference materials,” insists Tibke. But one conference’s stated objectives is learning to “Identify components of safe, supportive, school environments inclusive of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Questioning students and family members.”
“These things are going on in our schools,” said Tibke, “and while we would prefer abstinence, we need to recognize that not everyone is practicing that, and they need good information so they can be protected.” In the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 27.9% of ND 9th graders and 59.8% of 12th graders report having engaged in sexual intercourse.
Tibke went on to state that abstinence is the preferred choice that most all ND local school districts would like to teach and see their students adopt. “We all have the same agenda, we all want to keep our kids safe and hope that they decide to abstain,” Tibke said. “I get really frustrated when people make this into a political issue. It’s not. It’s simply educating our educators with information on age appropriate development and facts.”
When HB 1229 was heard in the House Education Committee, officials from ND’s Department of Public education came to testify against the bill, saying that they could not support the inclusion of the nine specific “concept” guidelines for curriculum laid out within the bill because some represented values, not health facts. As a result, the specific concepts needing to be covered by abstinence education were removed as a result.
The 9 specific points that were removed from HB 1229 lined up almost verbatim with the ND Department of Health’s Criteria for Abstinence Grants, which is one of the reasons Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo) included the language in the bill.
The bill passed the House, and the amended version heard by the Senate committee now simply states that each school district needs to present abstinence education. Because of the amendment, the DPI did not present testimony at the Senate hearing.
Supporters of the bill contend that values concepts are taught by our schools all the time, values such as self-respect and responsibility, which were included in the original version of the bill.
HB 1229 will be voted on in the Senate sometime next week.