School board meetings in Omaha, Nebraska have been filled with arguing, insults, division, and battling belief systems as board members stand poised to update the school district's sex education curriculum for the first time in 30 years.
The Associated Press' David Crary writes that one public meeting attended by hundreds of supporters and opponents ended in a chaotic eruption of shoving and shouting. This month, activists spoke for three hours and served as an example of the divide that has taken place in school boards, state legislatures across the nation, and in the US Congress.
A grandmother and former Omaha school district employee asserted that the updated curriculum "rapes children of their innocence." Jesse Martinez, a parent, said that students are being "force-fed course material straight from the pits of hell." She also expressed her concern over elements of the course material that she deemed "garbage."
Supporters, including the city council's president and students, asked the school board to give students information that will equip them to avoid teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, both of which are above the national average in Omaha.
Others who agreed with the changes pointed out that teenagers are apt to receive misinformation from sources outside of school.
"There's so much social media and other sources that they can go to that are not always reliable," Lou Ann Goding, school board president said.
The disagreements centered on the teaching of sex education are not new. The US Public Health Service backed sex education in 1940, and it became more prevalent in the 1980s during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, but has faced continuous opposition from conservatives over the scope, scale and appropriateness of information.
Utah has given a course called Human Growth and Development since 1986, which includes the encouragement of abstinence. The course also encompasses topics such as reproductive anatomy, pregnancy prevention, and sexually transmitted diseases.
The original proposal included classes in sexual orientation and gender identity in 7th and 8th grades. Tenth-grade courses would add a discussion of abortion and information about emergency contraception.
Fewer parents agreed that the classes concerning abortion and emergency contraception should be added, so, for now, school officials have decided to omit them, though they still may be a part of the course after the final decision is made.
But Emma Brown of The Washington Post quotes Ryleigh Welsh, a sophomore at Omaha's Central High School:
"Comprehensive sexual education is important for every single one of my peers. It is important to have all of the information in order to make an educated decision regarding my body and how to take care of it. I have a right to this information."
Schools across the nation are struggling with how to educate young people about sex at a time when society is changing at a rapid rate, especially regarding LGBT issues and the growing awareness of sexual violence. Yet in a 2015 poll, four in 10 kids said their high school sex education was not adequate to navigate real-life sexual decisions.
One group that has rallied against the proposed changes is Nebraskans for Founders' Values (NFV). The organization's website, "Save Nebraska's Children," fights against the program and calls it "full of pornographic content promoting homosexual lifestyles, masturbation, and sexually graphic images."
The board is expected to rule on the update on January 20. More than one board member has said that Omaha's 52,000 students will be presented with at least a partially updated curriculum, according to the Associated Press.
John Dockery, a member of NFV, told Rod Kackley of PJ Media:
"The schools could teach the issues that we all agree on," Dockery said, "and parents could explain the controversial issues like contraception, abortion, gender identity, and homosexuality to their children."
But board member Marque Snow said that not every parent knows which topics to discuss, or possibly the facts and information that are important for young people to learn to protect themselves. She added that a parent can opt his or her child out of sex education classes.