Times Union Letter to the Editor: Creation of curriculum was a flawed process
To the editor
Published 10:11 pm, Saturday, July 20, 2013
After hearing that Shenendehowa High School received a public relations award for the work of its Health Advisory Council, I decided to share my experience of the flawed process that determined the course of sex education at Shen. I served on the council as a member of Shen Parents Choice Coalition.
The council was given the directives to examine Shen’s comprehensive sex education curriculum and to consider alternatives. These directives were not met.
The process, designed by Shen administration to rubber-stamp the current curriculum, was so controlled that only health teachers were permitted to address the council. Since those teachers had crafted the curriculum, the school’s curriculum was never critically reviewed. When I attempted to address my coalition’s concerns, including inaccuracies that put students’ health at risk, four council members shouted me down. Meeting minutes omitted this disgraceful incident.
Alternatives to Shen’s curriculum were never objectively considered. Multiple requests for sexual risk avoidance education experts to address the council were denied. Instead, at the meeting to consider alternatives, health teachers gave presentations purposefully discrediting sexual risk avidance curricula.
Research supporting such education was not presented to the council, including 23 independently evaluated, peer-reviewed programs shown to be effective in reducing teen sexual behavior; these are collected in “Abstinence Works 2013,” a publication by the National Abstinence Education Foundation.
The outcome was validation of the curriculum, no medical professional oversight of curriculum accuracy, an open door to Planned Parenthood and an award for “image management.” Beyond the smoke and mirrors, the council squandered the opportunity to honestly evaluate what is best for students.
What do you think? Should Shen have received a PR award for their health advisory council? Discussion on our Face book page: SPCC FB
Head of SPCC’s resignation letter to Shen Health Advisory Council:
May 15, 2012
Dear Ms. Carman,
Effective immediately, I am resigning from the Health Advisory Council (HAC). As you know, Dr. Robinson gave the council three directives: 1. consider the current curriculum, 2. consider research based alternatives, and 3. consider the role of guest speakers. My belief that the Council would make a good faith effort to meet these three directives is what led me to agree to serving on the HAC. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the HAC has no interest in the first and second directives from Dr. Robinson. I have tried repeatedly to address the first and second directives with a scientific-based perspective and to present alternative sexual risk avoidance (SRA) curricula.
1) I was asked to be part of the HAC because the Coalition I represent had raised enough concern over the current curriculum that the school administration decided to halt the conventional presentation of the sex ed curriculum for the 2011-2012 school year. The HAC was convened to critically review the current curriculum and consider alternative curricula. Unfortunately, when I have repeatedly tried to discuss alternative curricula with the HAC, I have been shouted down at meetings and told my input was not needed.
2) A key concern of the coalition is the curriculum’s use of incorrect condom effectiveness rates for STD protection, risking lifelong consequences for students believing these numbers. It is clear that the HAC is ignoring this concern, choosing instead to stand behind the incorrect rate, and err on the side of recklessness, not caution.
3) On behalf of the coalition, I have made available to the HAC several public opportunities to learn about alternative curricula, including invited speakers from successful programs in NYC to give a presentation in Clifton Park. All but one member of the HAC declined to participate or learn about these programs.
When the Health Advisory Council formed I looked forward to meeting Dr. Robinson’s directives. These directives will remain unmet and I cannot conscientiously continue my participation.
Maureen D. Silfer
This council’s focus has been on defending the current curriculum and its implementation rather than objectively considering how to provide students with medically accurate information using the best instructional approach for student’s health and well-being.
- It was troubling to witness the callous disregard for the health of students displayed at the May 10th meeting. The school administration had been aware since April 28th of the incorrect condom effectiveness rate for STD protection being given to students, as well as an incomplete definition of abstinence that would put students at risk for acquiring STDs. The council members had been sent a letter from a family physician on May 8th expressing concern over the health implications to students that could result from this misinformation and providing them with the correct rates along with extensive citations. This letter was received by the council with anger and disrespect towards the physician, and uninformed attempts were made to discredit her and the information she gave. Rather than correct the handouts, the health teachers gave a power point presentation to the HAC defending a scientifically indefensible rate. Then they contradicted this defense by stating that they were teaching students the correct information in “class discussions”.
- Rather than objectively listen to my group’s concerns with the current curriculum, the council chose not to allow me to speak. At the March HAC meeting you informed the council that I had asked to speak about the current curriculum. About two minutes into my presentation, four council members objected on the grounds that: 1. I was wasting their time. 2. I had not given them a copy of the presentation in advance. 3. I was insulting the health teachers. I asked for permission to continue, explaining that I had a copy of my presentation for each of them with complete citations. Permission to continue was denied. In addition, this event was not recorded in the minutes to the March meeting. When I asked you to include this important event in the minutes, I was denied. At the May 10th meeting I passed out my account of the event I wanted the council to consider for inclusion in the minutes. I was told this event would not be included in the minutes. I asked that a vote be taken to approve the minutes. It was explained to me that there would be no “official” minutes for the HAC meetings, and a vote would not be taken.
This council did not objectively consider sexual risk avoidance (SRA) curricula alternatives to the current comprehensive sex ed (CSE) curriculum.
- The composition of the council is lacking a qualified medical professional who is knowledgeable of SRA education to properly present this alternative curriculum approach for consideration. At the formation of the council I requested that a physician from our coalition be invited to serve on the council with me. That request was denied. After the February meeting I sent you an e-mail asking for permission for the physician and an experienced SRA educator to speak at the April meeting in which the topic was “alternatives to the current curriculum”. My request was denied. I made the same request two more times in March. The second time I asked if our two experts could simply be present at the April meeting to answer questions the HAC members may have regarding SRA curricula. All three times my request to allow for the presence of experienced, knowledgeable, professionals with an understanding of SRA education was denied. Instead, at the April HAC meeting, a health teacher, Amy Preston, “described” the characteristics, philosophical principles and components of an SRA program to the council. She gave a power point presentation discrediting all abstinence programs based on the findings of an outdated study. There is presently a large body of research supporting the effectiveness of SRA education in reducing teen sexual activity.
- The council members were given the names and links to 5 curricula to evaluate: 2 CSE curricula and 3 SRA curricula. These personal evaluations were never discussed. Instead, the current curriculum was compared to CSE and SRA curricula in a presentation by the health teacher to show that their current curricula is the perfect “balance”, as it has components of both approaches.