Parents weigh in on controversial health curriculum

Dozens testify at School Board meeting Tuesday

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2007

More than 100 people crowded into the Juneau-Douglas High School library for a Juneau School Board meeting Tuesday night to weigh in on a controversial K-12 curriculum that would include discussion of drug use, sex and homosexuality.

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A final reading of the "Skills for a Healthy Life" curriculum - which includes discussing sensitive issues with students as early as elementary school - was on Tuesday night's agenda.

After dozens of parents signed up for public testimony, board member Phyllis Carlson moved to change the health curriculum to a second reading, so more people could testify and the School Board would take action on the curriculum later. A final reading will be held at the next regular School Board meeting on April 17.

Much of the public testimony opposed the teaching of certain sensitive items in school, saying drug and alcohol use and abuse, sex and same-sex couples are topics that should be discussed by parents.

Ben Gilbert testified before the board that two different role models who teach one of these subjects in a different manner could confuse students.

"It's up to the parents for many of these sensitive topics," he said.

Gilbert suggested letting parents take their children out of all classes in which certain health topics are taught.

"This is about the children," he said.

The fact that so many people attended the meeting shows that they are good parents, School Board member Mark Choate said. But, "as a district we have to look at the bigger picture," he said.

There is information related to certain issues that needs to be taught to children, Choate said.

Carlson said the district has a responsibility to teach certain issues that are not being taught by some parents in the homes.

Several parents threatened to take their children out of the school system if certain subjects, such as alternative family lifestyles, were discussed as part of class curriculum.

A number of parents said the School Board was overstepping its boundaries by teaching elements of sexual education to students in elementary school. Others discussed concerns about the idea of teaching children about "family configurations" and homosexuality.

Parent Jetta Whittaker testified she supports the curriculum and said it has been greatly improved in the several years it has taken to develop. She said she has had to discuss sensitive issues at home with her son and they also should be taught in the school.

"I've been dealing with (my son) hearing derogatory terms on the playground since he was in preschool," Whittaker said.

James Siddle, a parent of eight and grandfather of 14, said he supports kindness and respect in school but said certain things should not be taught.

"You can only teach or express your own personal beliefs," he said. "They show through no matter what you do."

Siddle said he is appalled the district wants to teach students about alternative family lifestyles.

"To me it traditionally is a male father and a female mother," he said, adding that the absence of one of those leads to social problems.

Public testimony continued past the Juneau Empire's press time.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at

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