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Columbia Board of Education Approves New Human Sexuality Curriculum

Meiying Wu

Beginning next school year, sex education curriculum in Columbia Public Schools will include education on sexual harassment, sexual violence, and consent.

House Bill 1606 requires that by July, any course relating to human sexuality include these topics. The Columbia Board of Education voted unanimously to implement the updated curriculum, and to approve academic calendars for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years required by the state law. The board also approved a contract with a new substitute employer service.

Human Sexuality Curriculum

The new curriculum reflects practices already used by Columbia Public Schools and requirements in state law.

Consent, sexual harassment and sexual violence are specifically defined in the curriculum, saying that students will be taught that:

Consent is "a freely given agreement to the conduct at issue by a competent person."

Sexual harassment is "uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate."

Sexual violence is "causing or attempting to cause another to engage involuntarily in any sexual act by force, threat of force, duress or without the person’s consent."

The curriculum also specifies that parents will be notified of the basic content and will have the right to remove their student from any part of the human sexuality instruction. Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said this is nothing new for Columbia Schools.

“This has been a part of some of the conversations in class,” Stiepleman said. “In the seventh grade health science studies class, what is described to parents – because we are really thoughtful that parents should know what their children are learning – says ‘to recognize signs of sexual harassment and sexual coercion.’ That has already been taught.”

The health curriculum can currently be found online, and parents are sent letters notifying them of the content being taught in health classes.

“The letters we sent to parents are very clear, parents should be the primary source for a child’s questions,” Stiepleman said.

Substitute Teacher Employer

Substitute teachers for CPS are currently hired by Kelly Services. With their contract ending in June, the district had to choose a new provider.

Nickie Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer for CPS, said the district received eight offers from service providers and interviewed four finalists. The school board approved the bid for EDUStaff.

Kathy Steinhoff spoke on behalf of Central Missouri National Education Association. She said “Although our contract with Kelly Services brought some improvements, over time it brought some concerns. We wanted something better for our students and for our employees and what we’re hearing tonight sounds like we just might get that.”

Chad Bilkey, a representative from EDUStaff, said they plan to make improvements that will increase staff retention in certain buildings and improve training for substitute teachers.

School Calendars

Calendars for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years were approved, including flex-attendance days and built in makeup days in the case of inclement weather.

Senate Bill 743 (2018) and House Bill 1606 (2018) require calendars be based on a minimum of 1,044 hours of attendance and include 36 hours of make-up time in case of inclement weather.

The school board approved academic calendars for the next two years, however a proposed bill could require one of them to be changed.

House Bill 161 would not allow schools to set start dates earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September. For the 2020 school year, that would mean schools could not start before August 24. The bill is still in debate.

The calendar approved by the school board has classes starting August 20.