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OPS in hot water for sex education event

OPS in hot water for sex education event

District chagrined after students say workshop put on by community nonproit handed out condoms

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OPS in hot water for sex education event

ReNae Kehrberg

ONLY IN THE WORLD-HERALD

Omaha Public Schools is facing criticism from community members over a teen sex education event last month where a number of students received "goodie bags" with condoms.

Several dozen OPS high school students attended the all-day event, called "Get Real: Let's Talk About Sex (ed.)" It was sponsored by the North Omaha Community Care Council and held Oct. 30 at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

OPS officials said that the event did not align with OPS standards and that in retrospect, students probably should not have attended the event.

The controversy comes as OPS is facing pushback from some parents and community groups over an update of the district's human growth and development curriculum, which includes health and sex education.

A huge crowd packed a com munity forum in October, and hundreds attended a school board meeting two weeks ago to address the proposed sex education update. The school board has yet to vote on proposed content standards or a new curriculum.

OPS is conducting a larger revision of the curriculum for the first time in nearly 30 years, which would add several new topics — abortion, gender identity, sexual orientation — that have previously been kept out of the classroom.

Supporters of the update and of comprehensive sex education, curriculum that includes lessons on abstinence as well as birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, have said the OPS curriculum is past due for a rewrite that includes up-to-date topics and information.

Opponents have said that discussions about sex, relationships and sexual orientation are best left to parents. They have expressed concerns about students being taught explicit material.

Nebraskans for Founders' Values, which has spearheaded much of the comprehensive sex education opposition, held up the recent sex education event as evidence that OPS isn't being straight with parents about its sex education programs. An FAQ sheet distributed to parents stated that students would not be receiving contraception as part of human growth and development classes.

On the website savenebraskachildren.com, the group said it learned from a student who attended the event at UNO that there were condom demonstrations, a relay race involving condoms and a sex toy, representatives from Planned Parenthood and bags handed out to students with contents including condoms.

John Dockery, a member of Nebraskans for Founders' Values, said the event was clearly inappropriate and shows that sex education should remain squarely in control of parents, not schools.

"It's just so ironic to have it so soon after the community forum on Oct. 20," he said. "It just counters the FAQ they put together."

ReNae Kehrberg, OPS assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said she couldn't confirm all the alleged details of the event but said the district did hear from a concerned staff member after the event. Principals called the parents of students who attended to alert them and to apologize.

"That's not a practice of Omaha Public Schools, to give condoms to students at school events or events during the school day," Kehrberg said. "We wanted to let our parents know that this isn't something we do in regular classrooms."

Representatives of the North Omaha Community Care Council did not return calls.

Event fliers and email registration forms were sent to schools and teachers and were distributed in the community. Kehrberg said nothing in that information gave staff pause or mentioned condom distribution.

The flier said topics of discussion would include healthy relationships, sex, drugs and alcohol, STDs and pregnancy prevention and the influence of media.

Registration did call for a parent signature if students were younger than 18, but included few event details.

Other groups present included the Douglas County Health Department, Nebraska Children's Home Society, University of Nebraska Medical Center and Methodist Health System, according to Kehrberg.

The North Omaha Community Care Council is a nonprofit that focuses on health and community engagement. Community partners include Girls Inc., Douglas County Health Department, OPS, Omaha Police Department and UNMC.

A member of the group, Lesley Dean, is also an OPS employee whose name appears on the flier for the event. OPS has been talking to her to get more details, Kehrberg said.

The district might also take steps to better vet events organized by outside groups. OPS has received complaints from community members in the weeks since the event, Kehrberg said.

She lamented the timing of the event, given the intense interest in the OPS sex education update.

"We're in the midst of talking about updating human growth and development, and we are trying to put accurate information out there," she said.

"Having students attend something that doesn't match our practices is not what we would want."

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

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