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Planned Parenthood of Montana responds to new draft of health education plan in Helena Public Schools


Today, the Helena School Board presents its revised teacher’s health guide to the Helena community. After taking public comment at multiple meetings through the summer, the School Board took the time to incorporate many of the suggestions and community comments and will respond tonight with a revised version. PPMT applauds the responsiveness and adaptability of the School Board, and feels the majority of the revisions address the suggestions of the community at large while continuing to provide a solid health enhancement guide for Helena’s teachers. Said Jill Baker, Director of Education for PPMT, “The new draft clarifies the intent and age-appropriateness of the health education standards, particularly around sexual and reproductive health. As a teacher’s guide, the draft provides developmentally appropriate health information and will require our teachers to be trained and knowledgeable about these challenging issues.” Baker notes that “the School Board is committed to providing our teachers the tools and resources they need to help support a healthy community.”


About PPMT:

Planned Parenthood of Montana is a community health provider and serves as a critical entry point into the health care system for 22,000 people across Montana. 


For many Montanans, the only doctor or nurse they see is one they visit at a health center like Planned Parenthood. More than 6 in 10 patients who receive care at a community health center like Planned Parenthood consider it their primary source of health care.


PPMT is committed to providing education, resources and affordable, quality healthcare to patients. The vast majority of PPMT’s services are preventative and this basic health care is essential to give women the tools they need to protect and support their families. 


FAQ / Health Education Plan Clarifications


1. What exactly is the document under consideration?

The document is more accurately described as a ‘Teachers Guide;’ it is not classroom curriculum. The document contains a list of educational standards - key themes and ideas that students are expected to learn. The standards are not taught directly to students, but serve as guideposts for age-appropriate instruction. For example the first grade standard in the original draft stated that students should “understand human beings can love people of the same gender & people of another gender.” This statement more accurately translates to the classroom as a simple discussion about the families in our community, not an explicit lecture on the dynamic of human sexuality.


2. Does Helena need to change the way we teach youth about health?

Teachers in Helena report that students are asking more detailed questions about sex at a younger age and that they as educators lack the tools to respond in factual and age-appropriate ways. The new health education plan is the result of years of requests from teachers for more guidance, and a two-year committee process that examined the most important lessons our youth need but were not receiving.


The data is also striking in revealing a need for more education about risky behaviors. According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Montana, nearly half of Montana teens are sexually active by the time they graduate. At least one student in every classroom had sex before they were 13 years old (5.7%) Other health factors are equally startling: 13.5% of Montana teens drink and drive; 13.4% report making a plan to commit suicide; twice as many youth have sex while drunk or high (25.7%) than those that eat at least three vegetables a day (13.1%). From these and other surveys, it is clear that youth are struggling to make informed, healthy decisions about their lives.


3. Does the proposed teacher’s guide contain instruction on moral issues?

No - the proposed education plans leave teaching moral, ethical, and religious values to parents. The health proposal simply presents factual information, such as the benefits of physical exercise, eating vegetables, and sexual abstinence. The educational standards also outline instruction to make Helena classrooms safe, welcoming, and comfortable for everyone in our community. That includes teaching youth that we all come from different families and backgrounds, and that bullying in any form will not be allowed at school.


The superintendent, on the district’s website, explains, “Health education is most effective when delivered in partnership with parents allowing students to receive accurate information from educators in combination with the values and expectations of parents.”


4. How and when are students introduced to the concept of same-sex couples?

All of Helena’s students hear about gay and lesbian relationships and many teachers do not know how to respond to questions. The proposed educational standards outline how to provide facts about different relationships in age-appropriate ways that complement the values-based education students receive at home. The intent of this element of the proposed standards was to promote community safety and support the school district’s anti-bullying policy. Youth who may be or who are perceived to be gay are much more likely to be bullied in school and have significantly higher rates of suicide.


5. Does the proposed teacher’s guide contain explicit information on sexual activity?

The intention of comprehensive health education is to make it clear that some activities are riskier than others and that all have risk. Students are reporting that they engage in some types of sexual activity because they are safer, or aren’t considered ‘real sex.’ Students need to know that that all sexual activity puts them at risk and the only way to do that is to be clear about the physiological pathways for disease.


6. Does the proposal have community support?

While much of the coverage has focused on the attendance at public rallies, many Helena residents have said they felt intimidated to speak publicly and were verbally harassed at the last hearing. Instead, supporters have worked behind the scenes, and the superintendent’s office and local press report receiving tons of supportive letters and op-eds. Spokespeople in favor of the new educational standards are available, representing all backgrounds, viewpoints, ages, and political affiliations.


Planned Parenthood of Montana, Inc.


September 14, 2010


September 28, 2010

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