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The Omaha Sociology Project: Sexual Education

 

Prepared by: Shannon Gelbman Veronica Interiano Andrey Mikityuk

 

 

Introduction

Sexuality education curriculum was introduced to public schools in the 1960’s. Since then, the curriculum has boiled down to two types of education. One type is comprehensive education advocates sexual health by using facts, and information to assist students when faced in real life with decisions regarding sexuality. Abstinence is also a part of the comprehensive curriculum, but information about safe sex to prevent pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases is also made available to students. Abstinence-only education promotes abstaining from sex as the only plan to avoid pregnancy, or health risks such as sexually transmitted diseases. The type of information provided to students, is often up for debate when dealing with sexuality education. Many in society have different opinions on what subject matter should be introduced to students. Many of those opinions are formulated regarding the individual’s background and upbringing (Heller and Johnson, 2013).

In 2013, Omaha World Herald reported about Legislative Bill 619, which was introduced by Senator Ken Haar. In an article titled “Schools could lose choice in how far to go with sex ed,” written by Paul Hammel, “Haar said 2,300 Nebraskans age 19 and younger contracted sexually transmitted infections in 2011.” He also stated the birthrate for Hispanic, and African-American teens in Nebraska is among the highest in the country. This bill would help contribute information to decrease this issue. At this moment, Nebraska schools teach general health education classes. The individual school districts are granted permission to decide how far to go with sex education — typically the information available is abstinence-only instruction to information about the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy” (Hammel, 2013).

Sex education is a hot topic almost everywhere in the United States. It recently became the subject for debate in the Omaha area when Omaha Public Schools proposed to update the current curriculum. When OPS decided to revise the curriculum of sex education, it created a social movement with the public that would bring social change to the school system in Omaha. Many in the community took a side during a public forum held in Omaha hosted by OPS on October 20th, 2016. The forum conducted by OPS put this movement at the preliminary stage; people are becoming aware of an issue, and this is where leaders from each side of the debate would emerge.

The supporters of comprehensive sexual education believe that this information will provide students with information that can be helpful when making important life decisions about sexual activity. Those that oppose comprehensive sexual education feel that it is too much information, and is not an appropriate topic for children. Comprehensive sexual education includes age appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention. The push for comprehensive sexual education has become an issue for Omaha parents, and teachers. There are many supporters for each side of this issue. The current curriculum has not been updated for over thirty years. Those that oppose this issue feel the change is not necessary, and when it comes to sexual education it should be left up to the parent’s discretion.

Those that want to change the education are supporting a reform movement, they want to change the current education to better fit the needs of children in today’s world. Motivational framing is being displayed by calling for OPS, and others to act, and implement these changes. Those that oppose the curriculum changes are supporting a resistance movement. They want to prevent the changes proposed by OPS, keeping the current curriculum. Each side is working to establish their reasons for wanting this social movement to either change the current curriculum or to leave it intact.

The study uncovered multiple themes that mirror each other and how each theme began to formulate. The study gathered an article from The Huffington Post, ten Omaha World Herald articles, and used them as secondary data. Each theme has been essential to the social movement, and have been a deciding factor if someone would support the sex education plan. The Omaha World Herald along with other media outlets in the community have been covering this topic from March 2013 until the present date. This topic concerned many in the community. Many have children who attend Omaha Public Schools. Omaha World Herald made sure to keep the readers up to date with new information as it developed. The articles gathered supply the reader with the proposals Omaha Public Schools shared with the public, and how those proposals affected the community. The data collected about the coverage from the Omaha World Herald revealed multiple themes. The themes focused on: Information, outreach, funding, morals, misinformation, and controversy. Throughout Omaha World Herald’s articles, they have been consistent with these multiple themes.

 Findings

Information/Outreach

The sex education social movement first started in its preliminary stage when Omaha Public Schools first began to talk about changing the existing curriculum. During the public forum held by OPS put the movement at the coalescence stage for everyone involved. The meeting joined others to talk about plans to change the education. The media coverage was informing the public of the issues discussed about the sex education meetings held by OPS. This is where they shared their proposals during those meetings to the public. Omaha World Herald has been a resource used to share ideas, and have kept the community up to date with their reporting. The articles also reported issues with the meetings and public. There is outreach to the community, those that are interested in this topic can input their thoughts, and are provided with dates, locations, and the times of meetings have been supplied in articles. Providing the public with information so they can be included if they choose to be. Information about surveys, and Frequently Asked Questions opportunities have also been part of the coverage, and that information has been available to the public. Reaching out to the community to supply information and those proposed changes to the sex education curriculum.

Sampling of changes and additions in approved standards

» Starting in sixth grade, students will learn about stereotypes, gender roles and treating with respect people who don’t conform to gender norms. Sixth-graders also will begin learning about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS. » Seventh-graders and eighth-graders will be introduced to the topic of sexual orientation, with the lessons touching on different attitudes toward sexual orientation, discouraging bullying and offering resources for students who want to talk about gender identity or sexual orientation. » In 10th grade, students will spend two weeks learning about birth control — the cost, effectiveness and side effects of different contraceptive options, including abortion and emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B or the morning-after pill. Abortion will be listed as a potential option for students facing unintended pregnancies, along with adoption or having the baby.

Other topics that will be added to the curriculum include:

» Lessons for fourth-graders on sexual abuse or harassment and unwanted touching or attention. » Lessons in fifth grade on ways to contract and prevent infectious diseases, namely HIV/AIDS. » Responsible use of social media. » A five-day unit in eighth grade centered on sexual harassment, assault and consent. Parents can opt their children out of all or parts of human growth and development classes (Duffy, 2015).

This information draws connection with research that supports the positive impact of family communication about sexual issues on reducing adolescent sexual risk-taking behaviors, although reviews show mixed findings on its effectiveness. Early sexual debut can increase the risk for negative health and educational outcomes, such as sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy and school dropouts. The research looks at the Get Real program that applies cultural-ecological perspectives to understanding adolescent sexual behavior. It also incorporates elements from the Theory of Planned Behavior, which proposes that teaching positive attitudes toward delaying sex and promoting self-efficacy in sexual communication will support students’ intentions to delay sex. Students’ sexual development is embedded within multiple ecological context, which include their immediate con- texts of peer and romantic relationships, school, and family role models and connections (Grossman, Charmaraman, and Erkut, 2013).

This model of change emphasizes relationship skills and communication to translate intentions into healthy sexual behavior (in this case, delay of sex). The focus on building strong relationships and communication and recognition of influence of many contexts drives the inclusion of family homework activities in the curriculum. The idea is to consider parents as a source of primary trust and establish an open supporting relationship of trust between students and their parent in order to facilitate the healthy fact-based approach to learning about sexuality and healthy sexual behaviors based on family beliefs and values. The research suggests that expanding family homework programs and normalizing students’ awkward or uncomfortable feelings about talking to their families about sex and making successful completion of family homework activities a clear expectation for sex education classes may help to increase effectiveness of the home-based sex-education activities (Grossman, Charmaraman, and Erkut, 2013).

Funding

Questions about funding raised concerns from the community. Many in the community felt that the institute that supplied the grant money would have a say in what type of curriculum OPS would use to teach students, and felt the money should be returned. Omaha World Herald article reported that, the Nebraska Department of Education received grant money in the amount of $75,000 from the Grove Foundation of Los Altos, California. Nebraska Department of Education has received criticism because the Grove Foundation has given money to Planned Parenthood, Guttmacher Institute, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Many disagree with where the grant money came from that would pay for the updated curriculum, due to the foundations ties with other agencies. By accepting this funding, it has allowed the movement to develop and create changes the sexual education curriculum (Dejka, 2015).

A group of parents questioned about what material they believe is most important, or what material they objected to being included. One of those findings found prevention of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases were found to be very important. Followed by prevention of sexual abuse, and teaching the process of how to be tested for STD’s. Subjects such as anal sex, abortion, oral sex, and masturbation tend to be less favored by parents when discussing elements of sexuality education. These topics tend to be controversial. Some feel it is the duty of the parent to inform the child of these things, instead of the school. There is no doubt a need for sexuality education, but the type of information provided to student is what causes the most debate. Both types of education have safety as the main goal.

Morals

Morals and beliefs played a crucial role, and this them was touched on many times during the news coverage. This theme shined light on those in the community who chose to speak up and verbalize their point of view. Members of the community shared their thoughts when asked about their opinion. Many of their morals, values, and beliefs are used as their source of an answer. Some felt the proposed curriculum was not appropriate, and that topics like gender identity, and sexual orientation should not be included. The morality theme also transforms into the controversy theme. Typically values of a person are sacred, and when those values are questioned, the type of controversy related to this issue is part of that. Erin Duffy reported in the article “Crowded OPS sex ed meeting turned rowdy,” “We want to make sure our kids aren’t being taught things we don’t believe in,” said William Jefferson Sr., who brought his son, an eighth-grader at McMillan Middle, to the meeting. “We don’t believe in things like gender identity. Things like sexual orientation should be taught at home” (Duffy, 2015).

Megan Hunt emerged as a key audience member and is quoted saying, “Our children deserve medically accurate, research-based information, parent Megan Hunt said. I know my way around Omaha, but that doesn’t make me an expert in geography. I’m raising my child to know they can love whomever they choose, to take responsibility, but that does not make me an expert in child development, puberty or sexual health.” Other members of the audience made national news. One mom called “Purity Mom” also emerged as key audience member, and was the subject of a video recorded during the forum shouting and screaming that her daughter’s purity is her responsibility and not the responsibility of Omaha Public Schools (Duffy, 2015).

The Huffington Post posted an article online reporting, “At a December meeting, a parent complained that the only sex education that should be taught should be limited to heterosexual relationships within the context of marriage. “I very strongly believe that sexual education for our children should only be about a loving relationship between a man and a woman within the bounds of marriage,” Margarita Hernandez said, according to Omaha.com. “Marriages never make it into the picture of sex education in the schools.” In the same article is a quote from a woman who was not identified said, “Yes we need to give children an education. But the curriculum that you have, the standards you have, gives children too much information.” Another woman, who was not identified, was quoted at the school board meeting according to KETV video, “It rapes children of their innocence” (Mazza, 2016).

The two types of sex education are abstinence-only education, and comprehensive sexuality education. Abstinence-only education teaches to abstain from sex until you are married. This education relies heavily on religious belief. Abstinence-only education encourages refraining from sexual activity. Someone who favors this type of education commonly has a strong presence of religion in their life. Religion is something many people believe in, and religion plays a major part when the subject of sexuality is in focus. Sex before marriage is viewed unsafe and damaging to one’s reputation. Staying abstinent will keep away premarital sex risks. Those risks are pregnancy, health issues related to abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases (Lesko, 2010).

Abstinence-only curriculum uses morals to present the message. Self-control will give you freedom from guilt, fear, and other consequences associated with premarital sex. Abstinence-only education views marriage typically between a man and a woman. Comprehensive sexuality education is up to date, scientifically correct information. This education relies heavily on facts. This education allows for individuals to be informed with the facts, and has less to do with shame often associated with sex. This information can be applied to decision making. Freedom can also be found through this education. Freedom to make the choice through correct facts can also keep someone from risks associated with sexual activity. While abstinent-only education focuses on the morals supported by personal belief, and comprehensive education focuses on the scientific facts to spread the message to be aware. Both types of education focus on the safety, and health of individuals (Lesko, 2010).

Misinformation

Many rumors of misinformation circulated that was being shared in the community fueled emotions to run high. Erin Duffy reported October 21, 2015 in an article for the Omaha World Herald, “Parent Bernie Garcia waved a sign on Cuming Street that read “Say No to Comprehensive Sex Ed.” Garcia, who has a fourth-grader in OPS, said he heard the new curriculum would teach students different sex positions and how to masturbate. “That’s disgusting,” he said. “That’s not right. Children should learn about sex when they become adults.” The rumors circulating around town regarding this issue have been a focus of the news reports. The articles have been used as a platform to correct those rumors, and provide facts to the community. The theme of misinformation transforms into informative because the correct information is provided and the rumors are discredited. Other rumors that have been corrected, were informing the community Planned Parenthood would not be involved in updating the curriculum, which material would be taught to students who are in fourth grade, not kindergarten. Christian based organizations largely attended these OPS meetings, and distributed material that may have been the cause for so much misinformation to begin circulating (Duffy, 2015).

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of populations worldwide, and to young people in particular. Despite evidence that comprehensive sex education is an important tool for prevention, the legitimacy and content of sex education in schools continue to be challenged by conservative narratives within society. The author proposes the model of the sex education as an essential form of civic engagement. Children should be recognized as “sexual citizens” and should be encouraged to participate as such. Participation means giving children the freedom to ask questions about sex and allowing them to articulate their sexual desires early on. Health Canada’s comprehensive sex education program (Public Health Agency of Canada 2008a), which promotes the development of children’s sexual autonomy, can facilitate this participation, so that when children are ready to embark on their sexual lives, they do so in a healthy and responsible way. The ideas of sex and sexuality are social constructs. Historically they have been based on romantic ideas of purity of adolescence and religious dogmas that are rarely empirically based and often misleading. The author’s goal is to collapse the binary interpretation of public-private life social construct and assert that all citizenship is sexual citizenship ‘as citizenship is inseparable from identity, and sexuality is central to identity’. The Guidelines, the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, which are grounded in empirical research, advance the notion that sex education should be provided to all people in an age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive fashion, and that it should promote the right of individuals to make informed decisions about their sexual health. The idea of “sexual self-efficacy” is central and means ‘the ability to say “no” to unwanted sexual encounters, the ability to assert one’s own sexual desires and wishes, and the ability to take precautions in sexual encounters (Illes, 2012).

Controversy

Some of the material is considered taboo, and has created some controversy when discussing this matter. It became a major theme the community focused on. The proposed changes have some members of the public upset. Their opinion is this topic is for families to talk to their children about, and not a place for OPS. This controversy has misinformation perpetuating this notion. Central High parent Christine Hillebran said she has observed some human growth and development classes and felt comfortable with 80 percent to 90 percent of the content. “I happen to be a supporter of more abstinence-based education, and they included that. I’d say they even promoted it,” she said. “But what they want to add are values that should be taught at home” (Duffy, 2015).

There are barriers to cross over in order for the children to have a good knowledge of sex. If we don’t overcome these barriers we could be looking at the same problems over and over again for the next two decades. Clinics, Dropout preventions, jobs, programs, etc. have done an outstanding job in helping out and making an impact, which is their job yes, but it is also the school’s job to take do more as well. Children spend a lot of our time in school, and they spend approximately eight percent of our lives in school and only a fraction of that is spent being informed and learning about sex education (Scales, 1989).

Sex education needs to be taken more seriously and needs to be expanded when it comes to being lectured about it. The main issue is what parents want the schools to teach and what is actually being covered. Sex Ed needs to go deeper than just the issues about AIDS, STD’S etc. We need to inform the kids about abortion, birth control pills, and condoms. Sex Ed shouldn’t just be about the negative outcomes of doing it but as well as real life situations that come with it. For instance, this information can reduce STI’s and raise public health awareness. Healthy relationships, and exploring other aspects of gender and sexuality can bring a better understanding to society. Others are only all about abstinence but the problem with that is that you’re only being informed about staying away from having sex (Schroeder, 2000).

Conclusion

Both sides of this issue are great examples of what a social movement is, and how support for that social movement can bring about social change. The question is should OPS change the way we educate our children about sexual education? This raises awareness about how the current education being taught may not be helpful in aiding students in their decision making. Omaha currently has a very high rate of STD’s in the nation, adding to the importance of this issue. The curriculum being taught is outdated by almost thirty years, and some only focused on abstinence only education. This subject has received a lot of media coverage from the local news, making it popular amongst those who feel deeply about this issue. Just recently a decision was made, and OPS plans to go ahead and will change the current sex education to the comprehensive sexual education.

This current event has been a great illustration of how each side used their opinions to bring about social change. Both sides have an assembling perspective, individuals who are behaving as rational thinkers and views the crowds as engaging in purposeful behavior and collective action; even though at times in the news reports it seemed like the crowds were getting out of hand. The passion many people displayed when stating their opinions regarding this matter shows how much people cared about this movement. It has been a touchy subject, making those who are not familiar with comprehensive sexual education uncomfortable. This movement has given access to information and ideas that many people at first had questions about. The most important aspect of this social movement has been to make sure that when faced with tough decisions the information is made available to children. It is giving them resources that provide accurate information that can be useful in the current time. Many causes of social changes are beneficial to the movement itself. All roads of technology lead to globalization. Advancing sex education to meet the standards, and using that correct information to educate young people about the confusing nature of sexuality can only be beneficial.

 

 

Bibliography

Dejka, J. (2015, April 19). Source of funding for sex ed effort is questioned. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.omaha.com/eedition/sunrise/articles/source-of-funding-for-sex-ed-effort-is-questioned/article_c8910806-b444-54f5-bc71-5928892fbc14.html \

Duffy, E. (2015, October 21). Crowded OPS sex ed meeting turns rowdy. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.omaha.com/eedition/sunrise/articles/crowded-ops-sex-ed-meeting-turns-rowdy/article_886ccc5b-9d61-57d8-9d2f-0aa49c842706.html

Duffy, E. (2015, October 22). OPS board undeterred in effort to update sex ed. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.omaha.com/eedition/sunrise/articles/ops-board-undeterred-in-effort-to-update-sex-ed/article_e249347c-f582-50f6-8ecc-96ede98843c7.html

Grossman, J. M., Frye, A., Charmaraman, L., & Erkut, S. (2013). Family Homework and School-Based Sex Education: Delaying Early Adolescents’ Sexual Behavior. Journal of School Health, 83(11), 810-817.

Hammel, P. (2013, March 13). Schools could lose choice in how far to go with sex ed. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.omaha.com/news/schools-could-lose-choice-in-how-far-to-go-with/article_d1a65a74-a923-5ef8-bde1-7ba2ad420d1a.html

Heller, J. R., & Johnson, H. L. (2013). Parental opinion concerning school sexuality education in a culturally diverse population in the USA. Sex Education, 13(5), 548-559.

Illes, J. (2012). Young sexual citizens: reimagining sex education as an essential form of civic engagement. Sex Education, 12(5), 613-625.

Lesko, N. (2010). Feeling abstinent? Feeling comprehensive? Touching the affects of sexuality curricula. Sex Education, 10(3), 281-297. Scales, P. (1989). Overcoming future barriers to sexuality education. Theory Into Practice, 28(3), 172-176.

Mazza, E. (2016, January 06). Omaha Parent Claims Sex Education ‘Rapes Children Of Their Innocence’. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/omaha-sex-education_us_568c862be4b0a2b6fb6dd505

Scales, P. (1989). Overcoming future barriers to sexuality education. Theory Into Practice, 28(3), 172-176.

Schroeder, K. (2000). education news in brief. Education Digest, 66(3), 72.

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