The Wausau School District is not alone in the controversy surrounding human growth education

Damakant Jayshi

Health professionals, educators, parents and students are strongly critical of the proposed policy changes to education for human growth and development, not only in the Wausau School District, but in communities across the State.

The proposed changes are recommended by Neola, an independent policy consulting firm that provides policies and periodic policy updates to school districts in Wisconsin and five other states. Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia are the other four.

The policy update, which was shelved this week in Wausau after a swift public reaction, would have removed “medically specific, age-appropriate instructions on health benefits, side effects and appropriate use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration to prevent sexually transmitted infections. The proposed wording also removed discussion of body image and gender stereotypes.

Parents and students who spoke Monday at a meeting of the Wausau School Board committee as well as three dozen of those who submitted written comments opposed the proposed changes. Most comments focused on removing contraceptives from political language and prioritizing an abstinence-only approach before marriage, calling the proposal “dangerous”, “backward” and “counterproductive”. Others saw the proposed changes as imposing a Christian and conservative ideology on students. Accordingly, district administrators will present a revised draft policy to the board in two weeks.

The criticism is not limited only to Wausau.

In Cedarburg, nine people, including eight medical professionals, submitted a statement lambasting the proposed changes.

“Once again, the Cedarburg School Board is attempting to bring about a radical and regressive change to education for human growth and development in Cedarburg,” the statement bed. “At the school board orientation meeting on March 30, changes to the HGD Education Policy Statement were proposed. These changes represent a huge step backwards in the education of our children.

Those who signed the statement specifically criticized an abstinence-only approach to teaching human growth development and sex education. Teenage pregnancy is on the decline in the United States. But there are states where it is still high. Seven of the states with the highest teenage birth rate.

“Comprehensive evidence shows that programs that teach abstinence only fail miserably in the most important outcomes – the prevention of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs),” the statement read. “Comprehensive, evidence-based programs have been shown to delay the onset of sexual activity, decrease the number of partners, and increase the use of condoms and contraception.”

The Cedarburg School Board responded by sending each of the people who signed a cease and desist letter, calling their statement false and defamatory and said the proposed changes were not made by the school board.

The policy changes were recommended by Neola.

“Neola has updated the Human Growth and Development Policy to reflect the language and substance of Wisconsin Law 216 of 2011,” Dr. Steven LaVallee, partner at Neola Wisconsin, told Wausau Pilot & Review. He added that the company monitors state and federal laws as well as court rulings and suggests updates as needed.

“Neola does not suppress (instructions related to contraceptives and barrier methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted/infectious diseases),” LaVallee said. “There is an added emphasis on abstinence. So when we updated the policy in accordance with Law 90, we made sure it also reflected the changes recommended by Law 216.”

But Law 216 was enacted in April 2012, 11 years before the policy changes.

Dr. LaVallee said that when Neola was trying to align the policy with WI 90, passed in November 2021, the group realized that it had not previously updated the policy in accordance with the WI. status 118.019. The law has no contraceptives in its recommendation.

Some conservatives across the country have recently focused their attention on the sex ed curriculum. Some of them even went so far as to say that teachers who talk about sexuality “prepare” students. LaVallee denied that the company was influenced by conservative political preferences. “We don’t advocate far-right or far-left policies,” the Neola partner said.

WI 90 explains the process under state law (48.195) “under which a parent of a newborn may assign custody of the child to a law enforcement officer, to an emergency medical services practitioner or a member of the hospital staff”.

LaVallee said Article 2.a of Law 118.019 (which refers to “reproductive and sexual anatomy and physiology”, among others) was a recommendation. But if a school board provided instruction in one of the areas referred to in s. 2a, he was also to provide the following instruction in the same course and in the same year: abstinence-only approach under section sub 2m. It “emphasizes that abstinence from sexual activity before marriage is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.”

The Neola partner also pointed out that it was up to the school boards to accept or refuse the updates.

“That doesn’t mean a district can’t include contraceptives,” he said. But when he did, he added, he also had to include an instruction required under sub 2m.

Indeed, this appears to be the approach of at least two other schools in the area.

DC Everest Are School District Superintendent Dr. Kristine A. Gilmore said there are currently no changes to DC Everest’s human growth and development policy. “We are aware that there are recommended changes specifically around Wisconsin Law 90 and we will address them in a future policy review with the school board.”

“When we receive policy suggestions from Neola, it is our practice at DC Everest to review them to determine how well they fit with our district,” Gilmore told Wausau Pilot & Review, when asked if the district would remove contraceptive education. “I do not anticipate that we will make any large-scale changes to this policy other than those reflecting the law update to Bill 90.”

Dr Gilmore is stepping down after June and new superintendent Dr Casey Nye said he will “defer to his response on behalf of the district”.

The situation is similar in the Stevens Point Area Public School District.

“The Stevens Point Area Public School District is not currently considering changing this policy,” said Sarah O’Donnell, director of communications at Stevens Point.

Mosinee School District Superintendent David Munoz did not respond to questions.

Norma A. Roth