A list of controversial sex education recommendations was approved Tuesday night by the Shenendehowa Central School District Board of Education.
The recommendations, developed by a 19-member committee that included teachers, administrators, clergy and parents, continue to stress abstinence as the “healthiest choice for teens’ overall mental and physical health.” But the recommendations also open the door for Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson Inc. to again be involved in the district’s sex education program.
One of the recommendations is to explore opportunities for the district to “host evening workshops where representatives from Sexual Risk Avoidance and/or Comprehensive Sexual Education Programs (such as those offered by Planned Parenthood) can present information to parents, students, and families that reinforces what is taught at Shenendehowa.”
A group of concerned parents, who maintain that abstinence from sex is the best and only healthy option for students, successfully lobbied to remove Planned Parenthood educators from teaching a three-day portion of the district’s sex education unit last fall. Planned Parenthood had presented these class sections at Shenendehowa for nearly 20 years.
The concerned parents said they were unhappy with the advisory committee report when it was released in June because the resulting curriculum would present abstinence and having sex as two options rather than presenting abstinence as the best and only healthy option.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the health advisory recommendations and full report were approved by the five board members present — two were unable to attend. School board member Gary DiLallo said he appreciated the “intense involvement of the community” in the health education issue. DiLallo said the debate and resulting advisory recommendations have resulted in “something of greater value to the district.”
Paul Drisgula, co-president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson Inc., who attended the school board meeting with other members of his staff, said his educators would participate in evening workshops “as they are made available.”
“Planned Parenthood educators have added value to sex education programs at Shenendehowa for nearly 20 years,” Drisgula said. “This proposal, approved by the Board of Education, allows that relationship to continue.”
Drisgula said another advisory council recommendation notes that it remains the role of the teachers and administrators “to determine whether or not guest speakers will be used to enhance the curriculum.” Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson Inc. would like to provide such guest speakers if given the opportunity, Drisgula said.
L. Oliver Robinson, superintendent of the 9,800-student district, said administrators will now have to study the two pages of recommendations to “see what’s feasible.” He said some of the recommendations will be included in the district’s budget development process.
“The [district’s] health teachers are doing a great job, and I’m completely comfortable with our program as it is now,” said board member Andrew McCarty.
Fellow board member Janet Grey said she was “hesitant” about the recommendation that the district host evening workshops. She said she had no issue with allowing outside groups the opportunity, space and time to host health education workshops, but thinks it may not be appropriate for the district to host them.
Robinson said the district hosting such workshops could be an issue because of strict requirements on how the district uses its facilities.
“We want to make sure it is not violating a law or violating board policy,” Robinson said.
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