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Roaring Fork School District discusses rollout of new sex-ed curriculum ahead of wellness committee meeting

Anna Cole, interim superintendent for the Roaring Fork School District, works from her office in Carbondale on Nov. 15, 2023. Cole helped finalize the scope and sequence of the 3R health curriculum.
Halle Zander
Aspen Public Radio
Anna Cole, interim superintendent for the Roaring Fork School District, works from her office in Carbondale on Nov. 15, 2023. Cole helped finalize the scope and sequence of the 3R health curriculum.

Pueden encontrar la versión en Español aquí.

The Roaring Fork School District’s wellness committee is meeting on Jan. 16 to discuss its new “3R” health curriculum, which stands for rights, respect, and responsibility.

The school board passed the K-12 comprehensive human sexuality curriculum last spring, despite pushback from some parents who said the content was inappropriate.

A few schools in the district have already started implementing the lessons, which are taught by school-based health center staff and nurses. Others are waiting to see how students and teachers respond to the curriculum before getting started.

Kendra Nagey, the school-based health center medical director, said in November that there are lots of benefits to having comprehensive sex-education in schools.

“Kids actually get higher academic grades,” Nagey said. “The initiation of sexual intercourse, for example, is delayed. Healthier sexual behaviors when it comes to healthy relationships, and when it comes to things as simple as condom use, are much higher among those who have had sex-ed. So from a community health standpoint, public health standpoint, I really feel like the value can’t be understated.”

Nagey has worked with other district staff, including interim Superintendent Anna Cole, on the scope and sequence of the 3Rs, deciding which lessons to prioritize for each grade level and in what order they should be taught.

Out of more than 100 lesson plans available, Cole said their team selected about 18, in part because they found certain lessons and resources in the 3Rs inappropriate, either because of the content, the intended age group, or the needs of the Roaring Fork Valley community.

Cole said she understands some parents will still worry.

“There are areas where I think folks might disagree with us on when we say it’s the right moment to talk about anatomy,” Cole said. “When is the right moment in developmental stages to talk about puberty? When is the right time to talk about sexually transmitted diseases?”

Cole and her colleagues have fielded concerns that the curriculum teaches young students, including kindergartners, about sexual anatomy.

But Nagey said those conversations should ideally begin before kids enter the school system.

“Research shows that children who have open and accurate discussions about their anatomy and about their bodies, those children are actually less likely to experience child abuse,” Nagey said. “When they have open conversations with their parents, when they’re able to name individual parts on their body, it’s actually a protective factor.”

In various school board meetings, parents have questioned how the curriculum addresses LGBTQ content, but Colorado state law says that if schools implement sexual education, it has to be comprehensive and gender-inclusive, and must address “the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals.”

Nagey said those conversations in the Roaring Fork School District don’t begin until third grade.

“In and around the age of third grade is when the language within the lessons changes, where you might be talking about a person with a specific body part as opposed to male versus female,” Nagey said. “But the discussion of gender and the discussion of gender being a spectrum is something that really does not become a focus or a core lesson until middle school.”

If a parent does not want their child to learn about a specific topic in the 3Rs, they can opt their children out of any of these lessons.

The district wellness committee meets on Jan. 16 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. to discuss the curriculum rollout so far, and that meeting is open to the public.

Halle Zander is a broadcast journalist and the afternoon anchor on Aspen Public Radio during "All Things Considered." Her work has been recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.