Sequim School District halts sexual health education courses after concerns raised

SEQUIM, Wash. -- The Sequim School District has stopped teaching a sexual health education course after some parents said it was not age appropriate.

Superintendent Gary Neal tells Q13 News that some parents had concerns after this year’s curriculum concentrated more on gender identity than the lessons in previous years.

Jason Peterson is a single-parent of five children. He said when he first agreed to allow his 12-year-old daughter to take the course in November, he thought the lessons would be about the same when his older two children took the course.

"I assume, like most other parents, that we would be covering pregnancies, STDs and all of those things that you want your kids to know about,” Peterson said.

That wasn’t the case for Peterson, who said his daughter came home crying and confused about the class in November.

“They told her that if she was into fishing and wearing athletic gear, or playing basketball, that those were boy things. And that would mean that she was a boy inside and that she was gay,” Peterson said.

Peterson said those stereotypes shouldn’t be taught the way the instructor did.

“I think people should be free to be who they are,” he said. “They’re discriminating, though, against her identity. And how much of it do you have to put up with?"

Peterson said the issue was that he felt the curriculum focused more on gender identity rather than medically or scientifically based sexual health. He feels that kids that young are very impressionable.

“The thing is, it’s front burnered,” he said. “Twenty out of 32 pages are generated to gender identity. It’s heavily weighted towards that. It’s biased toward that.”

Peterson said learning about this was not age-appropriate for his daughter. A few other parents within the district felt the same way and addressed it with the school’s principal and eventually the Sequim superintendent.

After hearing concerns, the superintendent decided to stop the sex -ed program for now.

The program used by the district is known as FLASH, which stands for Family Life and Sexual Health Curriculum. It was developed by King County Health about 30 years ago, according to officials.

Officials agree that the program changes throughout time, but only based on the latest scientific information. Part of that includes talking about gender identity, officials said.

“The issue of gender identity is also based on science. We have medical reviews locally and medical reviews nationally with some of the best experts (who) understand what is the best information that we should be sharing,” said TJ Cosgrove, director of the Community Health Services division for King County Health.

FLASH lessons are tested and reviewed by teachers before being published, according to King County Health officials. School districts have flexibility over how they implement FLASH – including which lessons they teach and at what grade they’re taught.

King County Public Health officials add that FLASH aligns with CDC National Health Education Standards and the National Sexuality Education Standards, which includes treating people with respect and dignity, officals said.

Superintendent Neal said that the district will now form a group to discuss which standards need to be met to make sure content is age-appropriate for his students.

Neal tells Q13 that he expects that process to completed before the start of the next school year.