A new state law regarding sex education has caused concern among some parents, but local educators say nothing has changed in their sex education curriculum. Last year Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act, which made Illinois the first state in the nation to codify new national sex education standards created by SEICUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, a national group that promotes sex education.
Under the new Illinois law, school districts that offer “comprehensive” sex education are supposed to follow the new standards which, among other things, calls for teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation as early as early as kindergarten through second grade. However local districts need not teach “comprehensive” sex education.
Among local school districts, Riverside Elementary School District 96 appears to be the only one to formally pass a policy of teaching “comprehensive” sex education. District 96’s policy specifically refers to the new law and the new national sex education standards.
However, District 96 officials say that despite their adoption of that policy, they don’t begin any sex education until the fifth grade and don’t teach all of the new standards.
“We’ve opted not to teach [sex education in] kindergarten through fourth grade, because we feel it is developmentally appropriate for our community to begin with fifth graders talking about puberty,” District 96 Director of Teaching and Learning Angela Dolezal told the Landmark. “Between last year and this year, we haven’t changed anything.”
District 96, like many other local districts, uses educators from Candor Health Education, formerly known as the Robert Crown Center, to teach sex education. In District 96, fifth graders attend one 90-minute session called Puberty I. It continues with Puberty II in sixth grade and moves on to Teen Sexual Health in seventh and eighth grades. Each grade level receives one 90-minute session taught by Candor Health Education staff.
Puberty I teaches the basics of puberty such as the growth of body hair and other facts about developing bodies. Puberty II gets into a discussion of how gender roles and manifestations have changed throughout history, according to Katie Gallagher the director of health education for Candor Health Education.
In Teen Sexual Health in seventh and eighth grades, gender identity is discussed.
“We define what sex assigned at birth is,” Gallagher said.
Teen Sexual Health makes distinctions between sex and gender and talks about various types of sexual orientations and expression, including references to people who are not binary or whose feelings of identity do not match the sex they were born with.
At a District 96 school board meeting last month Debbie Alm, the parent of adult children who attended District 96 schools, questioned the school board about why they adopted their policy.
“In that curriculum, they say in the brain is where your sexual identity is and that your genitalia is only how you have sex, it has nothing to do with your gender,” Alm said.
Robert O’Bryan, the father of twin first graders at Central School, as well as four older children who attended District 96 schools, attended last month’s school board meeting but not speak, although he told the Landmark he has talked with school board President Dan Hunt about his concerns and has traded emails with District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye.
In a telephone interview with the Landmark, O’Bryan said he believed schools should only teach the very basics about sex to students and leave the rest to parents.
“Sperm, egg, get the rest from your parents,” O’Bryan said.
Hunt said the adoption of the sex ed policy was done on the advice of the district’s lawyers and was not meant to signal any change in the district’s sex ed curriculum.
“I don’t think there was anything significant or special about it at the time,” Hunt said.
Other local school districts have not chosen to teach comprehensive sex education. They are just continuing to teach what they have taught for years.
In Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, sex education starts in sixth grade. In LaGrange-Brookfield School District 102, which includes the southwestern portion of Brookfield, sex education starts in the fourth grade.
In all school districts, parents have the option of opting out their children from sex education instruction.