New sex ed program on its way to Portland schools

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PORTLAND — A new sex education program is coming to city schools, although an initial plan to have classroom teachers teach the program has been scrapped.

The School Board is expected to approve a new curriculum Tuesday night that will replace the Family Living program, which used specialists who went from school to school teaching the program for the past 20 years.

That program, with three teaching jobs, was proposed for elimination in 2008 as a cost-saving measure.

However, after protests from teachers and some School Board members, one of the sex ed teachers will remain to teach the new program to elementary school children. Health teachers will teach the middle and high school programs.

The new program makes use of the Family Life and Sexual Health program created by the Family Planning Association. The Family Planning Association of Maine gave the district a grant to support the switch to this new program.

Current Family Living educator Margaret Hoyt expressed concerns previously that students might be less likely to report sexual abuse or discuss sensitive subjects with their home-room teachers, and the school nurse coordinator cautioned that relying on a nonprofit to provide funding for a program was dangerous, when that funding could dry up unexpectedly.

However, School Board member Sarah Thompson said the new program will include the anonymous “question-and-answer box” that allowed students to submit questions they were embarrassed or ashamed to ask aloud.

“We were concerned about that going away,” Thompson said. “This was a lot about kids having issues at home or in school that they wouldn’t say out loud to their teacher, but would write it down.”

Thompson said the FLASH program is more up-to-date than the program the district has been using, and will mean a district-wide curriculum, rather than a different program at each school.

“I’m happy with the way things are,” she said.

The new FLASH program includes a training session for teachers and will streamline the process all the schools use to make sure parents have given permission for their children to participate in the sex ed classes.

The FLASH program will be fully implemented in grades four through 12 in December.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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