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Sex ed program praised, criticized at state Ed Board meeting

Sex ed program praised, criticized at state Ed Board meeting

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A $75,000 grant to help the Nebraska Department of Education work with school districts to develop sexuality education programs and policies caught the attention of critics of Lincoln Public Schools' use of teacher training materials in gender identity.

Two speakers told members of the Nebraska Board of Education Thursday that a national initiative called WISE (Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed) has no place in the state.

But several people from Omaha defended the national initiative and the need for comprehensive sexuality education to help students avoid risky behaviors.

A parent advocacy group in Lincoln formed by critics of the LPS gender identity materials has also raised questions about portions of the LPS sex education curriculum.

On Thursday, Nancy Carr told the board that her research about “just what was being taught under the guise of health education” led her to Nebraska’s use of the WISE model and a controversy in Oregon over materials shared in an annual sexuality conference there. WISE, she said, was a promoter of the Oregon conference.

Critics protested at the 2014 conference in Seaside, Oregon, over materials shared with participants that offered young people information on sexting and online sites available to students as an alternative to having sex. The controversy prompted organizers to cancel this year’s conference.

But supporters said WISE uses universal, practice-based research to help schools create a curriculum that educates students about sexuality in a way that promotes health and well-being.

The initiative focuses on local needs and tailors programs to those needs, supporters said.

“I’m here to tell you I have seen the effectiveness of this program and urge you to keep it in place,” said Sue Korth, vice president and CEO of Methodist Women’s Hospital in Omaha. Korth is on the board of an Omaha nonprofit called the Women’s Fund, which works with Omaha schools using the WISE model. The group did not receive money from the education department grant.

Korth said the number of teens who give birth and acquire sexually transmitted diseases shows the need for such programs. WISE, she said, promotes abstinence and does not encourage sexual activity. Students who participate in age-appropriate sex education are more likely to delay having sex, she said.

Department of Education officials also gave a presentation to board members about the grant, which was used to help any interested school districts develop programs and policies using the WISE model.

Five school districts -- Hastings, Red Cloud, Harvard, Franklin and Adams Central -- took advantage of the grant, and Department of Education officials worked with them to engage community stakeholders and parents, craft policies and create a well-rounded education program, state education department officials said. The grant paid for training and related costs for the districts. 

Representatives from three of those districts came to the board meeting to speak in support of the program. 

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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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