Several community groups opposed to the possible implementation of Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education (CHSE) in Delta County schools brought on a change to the school board’s agenda mere hours before Thursday night’s meeting.
Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson told the Delta County Independent Thursday afternoon that, “due to the many questions that have come in recently” she made the addition to the agenda. A revised agenda was posted on the school’s website prior to the meeting.
“We were hearing that a lot of people were getting wrong communication about what the school district was doing. Because really, we’re in a research phase. I don’t know how that information got out there but, we really tried to be open and hear people. That’s why Jan (Tuin, board president,) gave the update,” she said.
Some of the misinformation came from within the district. A Hotchkiss High School newsletter released on April 12 contained information stating that the district had already approved CHSE materials and was implementing sex ed classes in the spring. The link to the newsletter has since been taken down.
“The previously published Hotchkiss High School (HHS) newsletter incorrectly referenced the district’s adoption of CHSE curriculum. The district has previously scheduled sex-ed seminars for ninth graders provided by local health professionals. These seminars are locally developed and do not include material from a published CHSE curriculum. The district did not direct HHS administration to take down the newsletter,” Gibson told the DCI.
Before the start of the school board meeting, a crowd of between 300 to 400 persons gathered to show its opposition to comprehensive, inclusive sex education.
Several protesters held signs stating, “We Support Traditional Values”; “Let Children Be Who God Made Them”; and “Do Not Forget Your Job.” Protestors listened to several religious messages, mingled and prayed while the board heard public comments.
The comment time, dominated by those opposing this curriculum, was limited to 30 minutes with each speaker limited to three minutes. Gibson said the time was controlled due to the number of agenda items including the naming of the new school.
Speaking in opposition to comprehensive sex education were Bob Neirinckx, Shane Kier, Brittney Kelleher, Dillan Struiger, Ray Sanford, Cyndi Payne, Cynthia Hansen, Dale Laird, Travis Miller and Mike West.
Individuals wishing to speak in favor of the curriculum said they were surprised to find that the district implemented an ad hoc “reservation system” bypassing the first come first served policy. One person noted that a district official who was standing at the sign-up list called the procedure “very unusual.”
When asked about the policy, Gibson said, “The order of public comment is determined by the sign-up sheet. We had people starting to show for the meeting a little after 4 p.m. and the meeting did not start until 6 p.m.”
Groups in opposition to the sex ed curriculum had already planned to demonstrate at the school district even though the item was initially not on the agenda. An email circulated by the Delta County Republican Party over the weekend called for community members to attend the April 15 school board meeting. First Baptist Church in Delta helped to organize individuals wanting to speak at the meeting.
Kier, former sheriff turned pastor, spoke against the CHSE curriculum saying he wanted to make the school board’s job much easier by telling them that, “Delta County will not tolerate a comprehensive sex education program.”
After his allotted time, Kier added he wanted the board to make a decision by October saying a decision in support of the curriculum would force him to take his children out of school.
In a follow-up interview after the meeting, Gibson said if the school board decides to move forward with the topic, it would hold additional public input forums.
“Our thought, as a school board, is that we would have a forum or community meeting in each community and hear their thoughts, if we get to that point. And I do hear loud and clear that they would like that to be done sooner than later because they want to know what is in plan for next year,” she said.
Gibson could not guarantee that a decision would be made by the fall, however seeing the community’s reaction, she said the district’s timeline may be shortened.
“Knowing that people want to know, I think that we will try to do our research quicker, gather data, get a survey out, collect those and if it warrants community meetings ... or it might be done at that time, we’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.
The day after the school board meeting, the district released a statement:
“A little over a year ago, Delta County School District was approached by a few individuals asking to implement a Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education Curriculum (CHSE) that aligns with House Bill 19-1032. The school board did not feel they had enough information so they formed a task force to study the needs, and recommend a possible CHSE curriculum that was standard-based.
“The school board has decided NOT to adopt a CHSE curriculum at this time. The school board has decided to have the district’s attorney draft a ‘one-pager’ explaining the district’s options and then share that information with the communities of Delta County. The board would also like to survey the community in the next few months to determine if the school district should provide a standards-aligned CHSE curriculum.
“At this time, the CSHE survey will ask if the community supports providing a curriculum that aligns with House Bill 19-1032 and state standards. After the survey results are collected, school district leadership and the school board will determine the next steps.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 20, at district headquarters.
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.