PORTLAND – A push to change the way the city’s public schools offer sex education may force an overhaul of the district’s health curriculum, school officials said Monday.

To save more than $200,000 a year, school officials plan to do away with the family living and human sexuality program after the 2010-11 school year and incorporate sex education into the health curriculum.

The trouble is, the district doesn’t have a comprehensive health curriculum that could easily absorb the important and often delicate responsibility of teaching human sexuality in grades 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9.

“As with many subjects right now, health isn’t being taught in a consistent way throughout the district,” said Sarah Thompson, the School Committee’s curriculum chairwoman. “We need to make sure that the curriculum is consistent and that teachers are accountable for the information that they’re expected to teach, especially related to human sexuality.”

Superintendent Jim Morse said he will expect designated staff members to develop a plan during the next school year to offer sex education as part of a comprehensive health curriculum starting in 2011-12.

Sex education has been provided separately, through the district’s family living and human sexuality program, for about 30 years. Topics range from good touching and bad touching, taught in fourth grade, to dating violence and contraception, taught in high school.

Health classes are given by certified health teachers in grades 7 and 10 in the city’s three middle schools and three high schools. They focus on nutrition, exercise and a variety of physical and mental health issues. How the subject is taught can vary from school to school and from teacher to teacher, school officials said.

In the 10 elementary schools, some teachers may include health issues in classroom lessons, but there is no dedicated health curriculum or trained health teachers.

“Unfortunately, transition of (the family living program) at this grade level is confounded by the complete absence of both a comprehensive K-5 health curriculum and trained health staff,” according to a report written by Amanda Rowe, the school nurse supervisor, as a member of the advisory committee that oversees the family living and human sexuality program.

When the School Committee votes Wednesday on a proposed $89.8 million budget for 2010-11, it’s expected to retain one of three teachers in the family living program for one more year; the other two will retire at the end of this school year.

Margaret Hoyt, the remaining family living teacher, is one of several people who will work on the plan to provide sex education to Portland students starting in 2011-12.

Another will be Chanda Turner, the district’s school health coordinator, a job that’s funded partly with tobacco settlement money through the Healthy Maine Partnership. Turner is a former family living consultant with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, where she developed sex-education programs and trained sex-education teachers.

The new plan for sex education probably will include a training program for all classroom and health teachers involved, Turner said.

In the meantime, Hoyt and health teachers in the middle and high schools will likely share the responsibility of providing sex education in the coming school year, Turner said.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]