by Ken Burchett, associate editor

Bio-Med’s Governing Authority’s Policy Manual, states that “the materials and instruction shall further recommend and emphasize abstinence from risk-taking behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.” On Feb. 22 and 23, ninth and 10th-grade students gathered during advisory to attend a program about substance abuse. This program was instructed by Ms. Tiffany Rittenour, a school counseling intern and substance abuse prevention specialist at Townhall II. There, students discussed why people choose to use drugs, why people choose to remain drug free, commonly used and abused substances among teenagers, and ways to resist peer pressure. “I’m not here to scare people. I just want them to be aware of what can happen and things they could do to their bodies, providing them with all the information to make their own choices,” Rittenour said.

MARCH 2022 — Sex ed, short for sexual education, is receiving a change in the way it runs at Bio-Med Science Academy by introducinga cohesive year-by-year program. 

Ms. Tasha Jackson, the school case manager, described how Bio-Med currently chooses programs. “They’re going based off of what they see in here. So if, say for example, you get multiple kids who come into the principal’s office talking about the same thing. So maybe sex, maybe they have questions, breakup questions, say something comes up in the student body, say a student says they have had sex. They just track those numbers, and if the numbers are high enough, they will deem that as a need,” she explained. “We go off the pace of the students and what they are disclosing at the time.”

During March 2020, all programming for sex ed was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that all Bio-Med students have returned to school in-person, sex ed programming has resumed, and Lindsey McLaughlin and Charmayne Polen, chief operating officers and principals, are planning future programming for Bio-Med. 

“This summer, our goal is to sit down and map out the programming for grades seven through 11 for the entire year and get it on the books, and hopefully that creates a framework for every single year,” McLaughlin explained.

Most of the planning of specific programs is done by Jackson. She is currently in the process of discussing how to create a yearly program with Planned Parenthood Director Mackenzie Burchett. 

“In the past, Planned Parenthood has come to Bio-Med to do presentations before, so this is just kind of restarting that old contract,” Jackson described. “We’re in conversation. Right now, we’re just trying to get dates that the principals want the presentations to take place. I believe these are most likely going to take place at the beginning of next year.”

Planned Parenthood tries to limit each instructor to 40 attendees each, so knowing the roster of students is an important factor in planning these programs. Since each class at Bio-Med has around 100 students, multiple instructors will be coming to Bio-Med, and students will be broken into smaller groups. 

“Planned Parenthood will give us an outline of their curriculum. I will forward it to the principals, and the principals will look at the school’s policies. Every school has a policy on what can be covered in sex ed,” Jackson said. “Then of course, parents have to sign off on those permission slips to make sure those topics are okay for discussion. It’s a lengthy process, but that’s how we decide what topics are most appropriate.” 

The topics covered in Bio-Med’s Sex Ed program are decided by the Governing Authority and described in Policy No. 3842 of the Policy Manual. As described by the manual, “The Academy’s sexuality education program has been established to provide information and skill development for students in K through 12th grade so that they may reach their highest potential for physical, emotional, mental, and social health.” It further reads, “Instruction may include but is not limited to: anatomy, hygiene, puberty, healthy relationships, peer pressure, consent, relationships, abstinence, sexuality, STD prevention, life planning and skills, and family planning.”

McLaughlin explained how others influenced policy as well. “I think it was Emily Baldwin, [a Bio-Med alumnae.] She did her internship with [Stephanie Lammlein, the chief administrative officer]. It was developing the sex ed program that’s based in the requirements of the law. Student Council also, five to six years ago, I remember them coming to board meetings and talking about what they wanted to see,” she said. “So it was law, student input, what we have access to — all those sorts of things were taken into account.” 

The Governing Authority adopted much of its policy on sex ed from the Ohio Revised Code, Title 33 Education-Liberties. Section 3313.6011 instructs that schools must emphasize that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent pregnancy and STIs. It also must “stress that students should abstain from sexual activity until after marriage; teach the potential physical, psychological, emotional, and social side effects of participating in sexual activity outside of marriage; teach that conceiving children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society; stress that sexually transmitted diseases are serious possible hazards of sexual activity; advise students of the laws pertaining to financial responsibility of parents to children born in and out of wedlock; advise students of the circumstances under which it is criminal to have sexual contact with a person under the age of sixteen pursuant to section 2907.04 of the Revised Code; and emphasize adoption as an option for unintended pregnancies.”

If a school plans on instructing any topic that is not specified by the Ohio Revised Code, parents and guardians of students under the age of 18 must give written permission for their child to learn about those topics. School districts also must provide lesson materials upon request. 

Parents may also opt their child out of sex ed instruction at any time. “When a student opts out, they are given advisory time and it’s up to the parent’s prerogative to determine how [the student] is given their sex education,” McLaughlin explained.

The classes of 2023 and 2024 have received instruction about consent and healthy relationships with Townhall II, as well as anatomy and safe-sex lessons from Planned Parenthood. 

Sophomore John Garden recalled his experience with these lessons. “From what I remember, it was okay. At times it felt too serious,” he said, citing an activity where students moved to different sides of a room to indicate what they would do in various situations. “I think it more became trying to go off what they thought the best answer was, rather than actually doing what we thought the best answer was.”

Junior Lucas Hagen believed that Sex Ed was important for students, beyond teaching abstinence. “Most people are going to do it anyway. I feel like if they’re going to, you might as well educate them a little bit to make sure they’re being safe, so they don’t affect themselves and their life later,” Hagen commented. “I feel like introducing it earlier is a better idea. Maybe do a little intro in early middle school, like sixth grade, and then really get into it freshman year of high school.”

McLaughlin agreed, saying, “I think it’s exceptionally important for it to be done early, especially when it comes to consent, because we want to try to help empower our students to know what is wrong and where they can go if they need help.” 

Garden believed that inclusion of LGBT+ people would be beneficial to students, as most Sex Ed only encompasses heterosexuality. “It should be taught as well. It also is a whole thing of like, not keeping it as something that’s taboo, and normalizing it to a point.”

Jackson is unsure if Planned Parenthood’s program will include information for LGBTQ+ students. “They didn’t go into that much detail if that would be covered, but if the principals feel it should be included, then we will vouch for that,” she said. “I want it to be fair across the spectrum. Sex for everyone is not the same thing.”

McLaughlin does believe that sex ed for LGBTQ+ students is needed, saying “It’s super important for all students, whether they are heterosexual or part of the LGBT community, to have accurate informationabout being safe, about protection, about consent, and all that stuff. All students need it, and heterosexual sex is not the only sex that is had.” 

Jackson concluded, “I’m hoping that parents and students can see that sex ed is definitely a need in the school. I feel like it would definitely be beneficial, and I’m just hoping they’re open to learning these things, even though some of it may sound repetitive. I’m hoping that they open up their hearts to receive the information presented.”

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