Haverhill Schools Address Sex Education Questions, Clear Misinformation, Note Opt-Out

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Of all subjects taught in public schools, officials acknowledge, sex education probably creates the largest blip on a parent’s radar and the topic at Haverhill Public Schools proved Thursday to be no exception.

School Committee candidate Carmen Garcia King and Haverhill City Councilor Catherine P. Rogers said parents want to see all materials used in that curriculum before it is taught to their children.

“Some of the parents and guardians have reached out to us with questions about what is being taught for sexual education in our schools. They want to be more aware of the curriculum, and we assured them that we would look into it,” Rogers said.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta agreed with the need to keep parents informed, saying more in-depth information about content will begin being provided to them. She also pointed out that because Massachusetts is an “opt-out” state, an overview of the material is available to parents already.

“We do currently have an opt-out process in the schools and parents do receive notice at the beginning of the year with an overview of what their students will be learning and an option to opt out,” she explained.

At the request of a speaker, the superintendent also cleared up potential misinformation. She noted there are no sexually oriented drawings or racially charged issues.

As to the question of what subject matter is being taught and at what age level, school Health and Wellness coach Megan Arivella provided a year-by-year overview, noting all materials must meet national and state standards.

“We teach to inform, but also teach to not misinform. Instruction is designed to supplement information which should already be provided at home for appropriate age levels,” she said

She said content covers six areas: nutrition and physical activity, sexual health, growth and development, injury prevention and safety, drugs and mental, social, personal and community health.

Arivella said the programs begin in grade five, but focus on topics such as hygiene and healthy habits until middle school when sexuality is introduced. She also noted the sex education portion of the curriculum generally comes at the end of a semester, after the teacher and students have become more comfortable with each other. She added by high school, the emphasis is placed on abstinence but also covers contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

After last year’s program, Arivella said students were asked for their input regarding the subject matter. She said, as a result of their responses, this year’s program increases the focus on topics such as sexual identification, orientation and consent.

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