Eugene School District 4J has put Churchill High School’s health teacher on leave and launched a third-party investigation following parental outrage over a student sex ed assignment.
Following the social media outcry over the assignment, dozens of parents, community members and students came to Eugene School District 4J’s board meeting to voice their outrage and demand the district do something.
Teacher and varsity football coach Kirk Miller assigned students in his Health 2: Humanity Sexuality class to write a paragraph or short story about a sexual fantasy demonstrating how someone can “show and receive loving, physical affection without having sex.” The assignment instructed students not to include any penetrative or oral sex and to include three items such as romantic music, candles or feathers.
The assignment was part of the OWL: Our Whole Lives health curriculum, a state-approved program 4J implemented in 2018.
What is OWL?
OWL is a sexuality education curricula intended to provide comprehensive, fact-based sexual and health education.
The program is age-based and offers interactive workshops and activities on a variety of topics including sexuality, sensuality, self-worth, relationships, gender identity and expression, body boundaries, sexual health and reproduction.
OWL was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ in the 90s, but its program is not specifically faith-based. It first sparked because the idea promoted by some churches of focusing on “abstinence only” education was deemed insufficient by its creators.
OWL curriculum is featured in a series of seven textbooks split into grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, young adults, adults and older adults. The assignment from Churchill High was part of the OWL book for grades 10-12.
Other topics for grades 10-12 include: sexual functioning, reproductive and sexual health care, STDs, contraception, gender roles, defining intimacy, masturbation myths and facts, abortion, new reproductive choices, date rape and gender equity.
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‘Professional judgment of our educators’
At the meeting, the superintendent and 4J board members denounced the assignment, saying it was not appropriate for students.
“To be clear, the teacher does not create that lesson themself,” Dey said.
Dey said the assignment was taken directly from OWL for grades 10-12. The curriculum offers lesson options for teachers.
“Ultimately, we rely on the professional judgment of our educators to utilize the curriculum as tools in their classroom,” Dey said. “What we have determined thus far is that we do not have a record of other classes using this lesson. We’ll make it clear to our health educators that this is not a lesson the district endorses or supports delivering.”
The assignment has been removed from the course.
On Thursday, the district confirmed it was launching the third-party investigation.
Before the post went viral in a Facebook post, the district was already set to reevaluate its health curriculum as part of a regularly scheduled review process.
The district is scheduled to adopt a new health curriculum before the end of the school year. The district will put together a curriculum plan that will be presented to the board in the coming months, but the board does not vote on curriculum.
Parents want more done
Sheena Bean, a mom of three students in 4J who initially posted the assignment to Facebook, said she was glad the assignment was taken down, but called for a full investigation into Miller.
“If the teacher did indeed choose this, he should be immediately removed from the staffing chart until the full third-party investigation can take place,” Bean said. “I cannot see this assignment as anything other than a blatant attempt to promote an immoral sexual agenda to our children.”
Others in public comment called for board members to resign.
All present board members denounced the assignment.
“I do apologize to the students, parents and community members that this affected. Schools are supposed to be a safe place,” board member Judy Newman said. “This does not make me back off from wanting to provide our students a comprehensive trauma-informed and fact-based sex education. We do owe that also to our students. This assignment, I would say, does not meet that standard.”
“As a mother of five, I was just gassed and upset and mad that a child would have to sit there and look at something like this,” board member Laural O’Rourke said. “Our job as board members is to create better outcomes for students, and we know an assignment like this isn’t creating a better outcome for students.”
“Requiring students to write down and hand in accounts of sexual fantasies, I believe that is abuse of power and an invasion of students’ privacy,” board member Gordon Lafer said. “Obviously, now we need to go through the rest of the curriculum and make sure there’s not something similar.”
Alicia Hays is the only current board member who was on the board at the time the OWL curriculum was approved by the district in 2016. She said she couldn’t believe the assignment was real when she first saw it.
“I have had the opportunity to sit through that two-hour training on OWL and to look at that curriculum and have never heard of anybody using that (assignment),” Hays said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and we will continue to look into that.”
Miranda Cyr reports on education for The Register-Guard. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter @mirandabcyr.