116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - As part of an equity initiative, the Iowa City Community School District is implementing a health and puberty curriculum that's inclusive of LGBTQ and nonbinary students.
The new curriculum - called 3Rs for rights, respect and responsibility - is a free K-12 sex education curriculum written by the Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Youth. The program meets the National Sexual Education Standards and is inclusive of issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Iowa City district's commitment to being inclusive extends to students in the LGBTQ - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer - community, said Diane Schumacher, the district's executive director of teaching and learning. Nonbinary refers to those who do not identify exclusively as either male or female. A nonbinary person may feel a mix of genders or not identify with any gender at all.
Horn Elementary School counselor Heidi Hassen said she has conversations with students who 'identify in a lot of different ways,” and it's important to have an inclusive curriculum so students learn that 'all bodies are good bodies.”
'There's a lot of ideas about what is and what is not OK to teach, but the reality is we have nonbinary and trans children in our schools, K-12. It's important they see themselves in the curriculum,” Hassen said.
Hassen is part of the team reviewing the health and puberty curriculum for fourth through sixth-graders.
As a school counselor, Hassen teaches lessons on body boundaries and how to report abuse and talk to a trusted adult.
The district started implementing new guidelines for teaching the puberty education curriculum in fall 2019, beginning with no longer separating students into groups of boys and girls for lessons.
The district now is working on implementing a curriculum for fourth through sixth-graders with United Action for Youth, which serves at-risk young people in Johnson County by providing mental health counseling and social services to teens and their families.
'When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, it's as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing,” Hassen said, quoting Adrienne Rich, a renown poet, essayist and feminist who died in 2012.
'That stuck out to me because students may not see themselves represented, and that leads them to look for their own answers,” Hassen said. 'Instead of them getting unhealthy information about sexuality and gender identity, it's important they get healthy, research-based information.”
Stanzy Scheetz, health educator with United Action for Youth, has helped teach sexual health education to eighth and ninth-graders in the Iowa City schools for the past three years and is also a consultant with the district on the elementary curriculum.
A nonbinary health curriculum includes things like using neutral language - like they/them pronouns for an individual - and not gendering body parts, Scheetz said.
It can help students feel safe at school and be kind to all people regardless if they have different cultural or religious beliefs, Scheetz said.
Many health curricula focus on people in heterosexual relationships, Scheetz said, leaving out children who are gay, nonbinary or transgender. That can heighten the risk of sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies and bullying.
Schumacher said parents are alerted ahead of time when a puberty or sex education lesson is planned for their child's class, and they are welcome to review the curriculum if they like.
'We want parents to be involved and become askable parents,” Schumacher said.
Talking about different gender identities or sexual orientations does not encourage students to become that, Schumacher said.
'This is part of who they are, but I do understand the concern parents might have,” she said. 'We really do hope parents can trust us and be partners with us, but parents can opt out if they have objections to the curriculum.”
Bills in the Iowa Legislature this year could affect the district's approach if they were to become law.
Senate File 167, which cleared a Senate subcommittee Feb. 16, would prohibit schools from including gender identity in health curriculum for first through sixth-graders unless written consent is obtained from a parent or guardian.
Senate File 80, which has not passed out of subcommittee, would require schools to share students' preferred pronouns with a parent upon request.
Iowa City district policy calls for students having access to the facility that matches their gender identity, Schumacher said.
Scheetz said it feels like there's a climate of bullying coming from the Iowa Legislature.
'In school, we're supposed to teach kids to be respectful, kind, open minded and accept other people, yet our leaders are pushing through legislation that speaks against that,” Scheetz said. 'I have dreams of a world where everyone from the top down is living harmoniously, but it begins with education.”
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