Birds, bees and new policies: Local 5th graders getting primer on sensitive subject this week

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The proverbial birds and the bees will make their annual, limited migration this week to fifth grade classes at Parkview Elementary School in Dillon.

Though they’ll be accompanied by a bit more buzz than in past years, courtesy of the Montana Legislature.

“Just a reminder that Beaverhead County Public Health will be coming to our school to present the Always Changing Program on Friday, November 18,” read a notice recently sent to parents/guardians of 5th-grade students at Parkview Elementary in Dillon.

“The Always Changing Program is a school-based resource designed to teach pre-teens in Grade 5 about the transition between childhood and adolescence, and the beginning stages of puberty,” read the bottom of the first page of a sheet attached to the notice detailing Dillon School District #10’s Policy 2335F2—Human Sexuality 48Hour Notice.

Adopted by unanimous vote in September by the SD #10 Board of Trustees—who did not have much of a choice in the matter if they wanted to continue to receive state funding— Policy 2335F2 brings to SD #10 the essentials of Senate Bill 99 passed by the Montana Legislature last year and signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte.

“It requires us to give parental notice, both at the start of the year, if any human sexuality discussions are going to be had, and 48 hours in advance,” Dillon Elementary School District #10 Superintendent Randy Shipman advised members of the district’s board at their September meeting.

“So, it really does not change anything we’re currently doing,” continued Shipman, who served as the principal of Dillon Middle School for more than a decade before becoming SD #10’s Superintendant in 2018.

“What we haven’t been doing is noticing at the start of the year, which we are now doing because we are complying with the law,” said Shipman, whose district will also again offer parents and guardians the chance to ‘opt out’ of having their kids receive the instruction by signing a form at the beginning of the school year and/or one like the one sent to families of to fifth graders last week.

“And the other part in the law is that,” added Shipman, “parents will also have a chance to come in and view the curriculum, prior to it being taught. That’s part of the notice that parents will receive.”

“I do want to define better for all of you though what human sexuality means,” Shipman told SD 10 Board members of what is being addressed by School Distrct 10’s Policy 2335F2—Human Sexuality 48-Hour Notice.

“Human sexuality instruction means teaching or otherwise providing information about human sexuality, including intimate relationships, human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, sexual acts, sexual orientation, gender identity, abstinence, contraception or reproductive rights or responsibilities,” quoted Shipman from SB 99.

“In 5th grade with the body talk that doesn’t really get into those things too deep—it’s more about hygiene, revealed Shipman.

“The 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade health curriculum in the middle school does have a human sexuality component to it. However in 6th grade, it’s more about relationships; 7th and 8th grade is where it gets more into human sexuality, however in all those cases, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th—we’ve been doing this for a number of years, for as long as I’ve been here—we already allowed an opt-out opportunity,” said Shipman of a choice that would replace the human sexuality instruction with other curriculum for students of parents/guardians opting out.

“So, do all parents or just 5–8 get notified,” wondered SD #10 Board member Sharon Anderson..

“All parents at the start of the year must be notified that any time human sexuality’s going to be discussed that they’ll have an opportunity to opt out. So, let’s say 1st grade, for whatever reason, wanted to talk about whatever, that’s what that notice is for. Then prior to that happening in 1st grade, or for us 5th 6th, 7th and 8th graders. That’s where the 48-hour notice comes in,” explained Shipman.

“The other important piece to this, and this is dangerous but the law requires us to do it, is we’re never going to do this in kindergarten or in first grade. However, they will also get the form, and so the fear is that some parents will overreact and think that, you know. But that is what the law is, that the first notice—the annual goes out to everybody. And then when a human sexuality talk is going to occur, that prompts the 48-hour notice.

“I would assume that you’re going to get every single kindergarten parent sending back the first saying, ‘No!” commented SD #10 Board member Kathy Hilton.

“Without a doubt,” responded Parkview Principal Greg Fitzgerald.