SAS Passes Specialized Sex Ed Curriculum For Life Skills Students

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The long-argued over specialized sexual education curriculum for
about 120 students in the life skills program of Saline’s special
education students passed the Saline Area Schools Board of Education
with only one dissenting vote, Tuesday evening. The new curriculum only
applies to a very small number of students, which require visual
education in order to understand what is being taught.

“There was a lot of pressure on the Board, a lot of misinformation.
I’m relieved and happy [that the measure passed],” Tiffany Alexander
said. “My understanding of board policy is that they can move any
discussion item to an action item any time that they want to. And if
that is their policy and they followed their policy, it doesn’t matter
what anyone else thought.”

Tiffany Alexander

Most students can understand social cues and euphemisms. The
specialized curriculum, that was passed is designed for students who
need visualization in order to understand what is being taught. This
includes a number of visualizations of sexual concepts, which multiple
parents called pornography. This led to a divisive School Board meeting,
October 26, which was mostly taken up by parents from both sides
arguing their case.

“I’m disgusted. I hope that we can go public
and everyone on this board who is up for election in a year and a half
is voted off. The public is not going to forget this,” Parent Raelyn
Davis said.

Raelyn Davis

The curriculum was passed recommended by the sexual education
advisory board, with amendments to cut out mentions to abortion that
were part of the original curriculum from its source material in
California, to comply with Michigan state law.

Several parents claimed that the confidential nature of the SEAB
violated the law, and they claimed that the district violated multiple
laws in the process. Superintendent Steven Laatsch maintained at
multiple points during the evening that the curriculum followed Michigan
state law.

A considerable number of parents in the packed Liberty meeting room
objected loudly when Trustee Susan Estep moved to add a motion to the
agenda to vote on adopting the curriculum as recommended that night.
Eventually, a compromise was reached when the vote was postponed until
after the second public comment part of the meeting, which, unlike the
first public comment, had no time limit.

“It’s a hot mess,” Parent Matt Thomas said, leaving the meeting.

Thomas, like Davis, says that the entire process has violated
Michigan state law. Davis told this newspaper that she has filled
multiple complaints with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and
the Michigan Department of Education.

Parents complained about not having enough time in the process, or
not being informed. Some parents to have only been recently told that
this policy was in the works.

The policy has in fact been in the works for about three years,
between the former and current SEAB. There were multiple information
sessions during the committee phase over the course of the summer, and
during the committee process.

One thing that was removed at the last minute was a reference to
Planned Parenthood. Laatsch said that all references to abortion were
removed from the curriculum in accordance to state law, but parents
pointed out that a phone number existed in the curriculum that connected
to the healthcare provider, which provides abortion services. The final
curriculum was passed replaced mentions of abortion to comply with Michigan state law.

The number is on a teacher's research page, not material for students. Laatsch said that he is waiting for clarification from the SEAB chair on how this would be utilized for students. This curriculum will not be introduced until the 2022-2023 school year.

Steve Laatsch

"I always want to defer to the people who have been working on this material, which is the SEAB," Laatsch said. 

According to Laatsch, this current effort started in earnest in 2019
when the then SEAB started looking at “curriculum options for our
special populations”, as he put it in a presentation to the Board. The
current model was selected in spring 2020. A new SEAB was selected in
the fall of 2020, according to Laatsch, which proceeded with the current
edition. The public hearing process began last May.


"In an abundance of caution, we are removing pages 307, 308 and 309 in Module four, lesson 10. Part of this lesson provides a Planned Parenthood resource link and a crisis hotline number associated with Planned Parenthood," Laatsch said in a follow up statement. "Although there is no mention of abortion, the term pregnancy test is used in this lesson. We do not want there to be any confusion that these resources or this lesson would somehow support the teaching of abortion."

Multiple members of the community complained about not being
consulted further in this three year long process. But according to
Laatsch, the district found that 92 percent of parents with children in
the life skills section of the special education population supported
the adoption of specialized curriculum.

“I was in the SEAB from 2017 to 2020. It was during that time that special ed parents and teachers approached the SEAB asking for an amended sex education and health program,” Katheryn Kelly, a parent who has children in SAS, but not in the life skills program, said. “I think that the process throughout the last three years – with public hearings, gained a lot of information. The SEAB took information from parent and community input to heart. I feel that the process has worked and the majority of parents and students affected have a curriculum that will begin to help them learn about health and sex education in an appropriate way.”

The life skills students are a subsection of 120 students out of the
700 or so students in special education across the district.
Interestingly, Laatsch claimed that 73 percent of parents across the
wider special education parental population favored the curriculum in
May. But when that was taken out of the special education parental
group, Laatsch said that 60 percent of parents were opposed to the
curriculum and 88 percent of residents who didn’t have kids in the
district were opposed to adopting the curriculum.

One of the fears that parents in opposition to the policy had was
that this policy would eventually make its way into general education.
Board of Education President Jennifer Steben said that it would not be
right for the general public.

But for the parents in opposition of the deal, who questioned the
process from the beginning, that was little comfort. Several asked
members of the public to consider running against the sitting Board of
Education in the near future.

Image Credit: Scot Graden.

Clarification: A previous version of this article did not include the quote from Superintendent Laatsch, or the preceding paragraph. 

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