OMAHA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Parent Marilou Roth pored through one textbook option for 10th grade health and sex education and scribbled down notes.

"A lot of it is pretty good but some things are missing," she said.

Descriptions for birth control methods like the Depo-Provera shot and intrauterine device (IUD) didn't adequately address possible side effects, she said. She took issue with a mention of sexual activity she thought didn't stress enough the importance of being in a committed relationship.

"If you're going to put forth this information, it needs to be medically accurate," she said.

At Burke High School, parents and community members thumbed through textbooks and binders with names like "Teen Health" and "Worth the Wait."

They checked off items on a scoring sheet: Were handouts age-appropriate? Did textbooks use graphics and graphs that would grab kids' attention and be easily understood?

"Some impressed me," said Tyrome Charleston, a former Omaha Public Schools parent.

"They bring a more modern approach to dealing with the things they need to know."

Thursday marked the first in a series of four curriculum review nights hosted by OPS.

Parents and community members interested in learning more about the materials that would be used to teach an updated health and sex education curriculum were able to check out the books and worksheets that could end up in classrooms next school year.

More than a dozen options were available for inspection Thursday night, from fourth-grade textbooks that hit on the importance of flossing every day and wearing a bike helmet, to high school handouts that prompted kids to practice strategies for abstaining from sex or included diagrams showing how to perform a breast self-exam.

Teachers and school nurses who teach human growth and development classes had a separate review session on Tuesday.

OPS staff will compile feedback from both groups and decide which curriculum to testdrive in classrooms this spring. Teachers will vote on which materials they prefer, and the school board is expected to vote on a final curriculum purchase in May.

Teachers would be trained over the summer and the new curriculum would be introduced in classes this fall.

Other family review nights will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on:

• Feb. 29 at South High School, 4519 S. 24th St.

• March 1 at Northwest High School, 8204 Crown Point Ave.

• March 2 at North High School, 4410 N. 36th St.

Charleston said he planned to attend every session, to make sure the same curriculum materials are presented at each.

"My main concern is that OPS is being honest, that this is all the curriculum they're looking at," he said.

He had some concerns about the volume of information in some of the elementary and middle school materials.

"I feel that sometimes we give our kids too much information that they can't handle," he said.

OPS typically lets parents review new history or math textbooks but faced intense interest in the district's sex education update. Over several months, hundreds of parents and community members turned up at public meetings to both support and condemn changes to the district's sex education program.

The curriculum was introduced in 1986 and hadn't received any major revisions until the school board approved new content standards last month.

Topics that had previously been excluded from human growth and development classes, including abortion, gender identity and sexual orientation, will now be discussed.

Lessons also touch on pregnancy prevention, including abstinence and birth control; sexually transmitted diseases; dating violence; drugs and alcohol; and self-esteem.

One mother of an OPS fourth-grader said she was glad that the lessons would touch on sexual abuse.

Another attendee, Kimberly Fletcher, has kids who go to school in Papillion-La Vista, not OPS. But she still wanted to check out the OPS materials; what one district approves often trickles down to others, she said.

She was not happy with what she saw in one middle school curriculum published by the group Advocates for Youth.

She pointed to a page that asked "Is Our School LGBT inclusive?"

"Why should we even be talking about this?" she asked. "This one is obviously agenda-driven, while the others are more health and wellness-oriented."

The Advocates for Youth curriculum didn't originally appear on a list of OPS-proposed curricula, but it was added after the group told OPS that future curriculum editions wouldn't include explicit references to Planned Parenthood.

Several attendees said they thought more parents would show up. OPS planned for 300 people at each review night; only about 30 people turned out at Burke. They were a mix of OPS parents and community members who don't have kids in OPS.

"We had hoped for more parents to be able to join us," said OPS Assistant Superintendent ReNae Kehrberg.

Several opponents of the sex education update said they were glad to see OPS letting people inspect all curriculum options.

But one mom, who has a third-grader and a sixth-grader who attend OPS, said she still thought the process was happening too quickly.

"There's no reason to rush this," she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1210, erin.duffy@owh.com, twitter.com/eduff88

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