Thursday, November 15, 2012

Don't Shoot the Messenger

Whenever I attend CPS meetings, I always ponder the wisdom of sharing what I've learned or keeping it to myself. Part of me thinks that it's important for CPS (and by extension: me) to be as transparent as possible. But the other part of me winces when I envision an angry mob with pitchforks heading in my direction as I read the comments. I now realize that my CPS experience as a parent is pretty much unlike that experienced by any of my peers or neighbors. For that reason, perhaps I should go back to straight reporting rather than editorializing? 

So with that out of the way: don't shoot the messenger.

This morning, I attended, via teleconference, the November monthly meeting of the PTA Advisory Council. My attendance, either in person or via phone, is mostly sporadic, but I've written about my experiences in the past, and you can read more about the advisory council here. Due to a previous commitment, I had to drop off the call just at the point that the conversation turned to school closings and became heated. But I did hear the first presenter, a man by the name of Ira Rounsaville, who is tasked with revising the district's policy for family life and comprehensive sexual education. 

He started his presentation by saying that he really wants to increase parent involvement in policy development at the district level. (See above.) His department, the newly created Office of Student Health & Wellness, reconstituted from the ghosts of CPS Offices past, is in the process of revising the comprehensive sexual education policy from 2008. The 2008 policy is a revision itself, of the 1965 policy. 

The reason for this, he said, is two-fold. One, there is no uniformity in implementation of sexual education curriculum across CPS currently. And two, and probably more importantly, they looked at the data and trends of what age, and in what ZIP codes they reside, people are getting sexually transmitted diseases. 

He shared that in some areas of the city, kids as young as age 10 are contracting sexually transmitted diseases. He also said that Chicago is the top U.S. city for gonorrhea and chlamydia. In his view, student health affects educational outcomes.

So how is this happening? In what I imagine is a similar method to that employed by the instructional strategy office for Common Core rollout, the Office of Student Health & Wellness went backward from a high school senior to figure out what kinds of knowledge should be covered in each previous year, from a health and sexual education point of view. 

He said that the policy in draft form now would have children in grades K-4th taught the basics of family life as a precursor to sexual education: what the body parts are called, what is good touch/bad touch, what families look like in a general sense--all using age-appropriate terms and concepts. Comprehensive sexual education would begin in 5th grade, again using age-appropriate terms and concepts. The idea is to give students a basic understanding of how their bodies work. 

Currently, the 2008 policy says that condom demonstrations are allowed in 7th and 8th grade with principal consent, and in grades 9-12th with principal notification -- too late to prevent a 10-year-old from contracting gonorrhea. The draft policy would have students see a demonstration of condom use in 5th grade, period. He pointed out that even if you think your 5th grader is not ready for sex; he or she may be targeted by the sexually mature students in his or her class or in 6th grade. 

The draft policy would have the curriculum integrate with a core subject, such as science or social studies because, especially as kids get into high school, they are more likely to have these subjects every day and the sexual education component can be integrated easily into a discussion of biology, discovery of AIDS, or history and civics lessons, for example. Also, he pointed out that the draft policy aims for spending 625 curriuculum minutes each year on sexual education, and it's important that students have physical exercise during their P.E. classes.

The draft policy calls for parent notification via a letter, and suggests that schools should offer a parent/guardian informational meeting about the program with a curriculum breakdown and opportunity to ask questions. Parents/guardians will be able to opt their children out of the program by submitting it in writing to the individual school offices -- again, per the draft policy. 

He pointed out that CPS does not follow an abstinence-only curriculum, and that in a sample 10-lesson unit at the high school level, maybe only two lessons would discuss abstinence. 

Another important point that Mr. Rounsaville made, repeatedly, is that he believes that parents and the Board of Education should hold schools accountable for following the policy. When I asked about transparency in the policy and parent feedback, he was very receptive to that. Next steps for his department and the draft policy are to go through a few internal levels, through the CPS law department and then simultaneously onto the website (not yet launched) and to the Board of Education for consideration. A vote may take place on the policy at the BoE's January meeting.

If you have questions, comments, or concerns about the policy or process, please contact Ira Rounsaville directly at 773-553-8384 or irounsaville at