Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Respectful (and Necessary) Conversation about Sex Education

The headline in this week’s local paper claimed: The Needham Public Schools Sex Education Controversy Escalates. That’s news to me and most of my colleagues and parents in the Needham Public Schools who have been engaged in a responsible, respectful, and heartfelt discussion about a proposed sex ed program.

The article goes on to describe the objections of a few parents who have publicly expressed concern about what they perceive to be a lack of family values embedded in the program. The reporter also interviewed the district’s Wellness Director, Kathy Pinkham, who has led a robust and transparent effort to develop an appropriate and meaningful sex education program that is responsive to the Massachusetts Curriculum frameworks, reflective of good research, and grounded in school and community values.

As superintendent, I know this can be tricky and sensitive territory to cover, especially in a community with high expectations and myriad viewpoints. But the focus has been, and will continue to be, what’s good for students. Here are some takeaways worth considering:

• The staff has engaged the parent, medical, and broader community over the last two years in the development of curriculum goals for sex education in grades 5 through 12.

• The process, although imperfect, has been honest, candid, and transparent. There have been over ten community meetings on the topic and three or four School Committee agenda items on sex education. Last week Dr. Pinkham met with the Needham Clergy Association to share program goals and solicit their feedback. Bottom line? No secrets in what we do here in Needham! We have been and will continue to be open and clear about what we teach students.

• Parents are the primary educators of their children, and we will partner with them as we teach their children. Parents will be asked to participate in homework assignments designed to encourage conversations between children and their parents. Parent meetings will be held this spring to inform parents about the 5th and 9th grade programs. Parents may also opt out of any portion of or the entire program at anytime.

• The curriculum, resources, public presentations, a Frequently Asked Questions guide, and other materials are all available on the district’s website for review. Soon, additional lesson outlines and resources will be available as we pilot the new ninth grade program this spring. Please check out the district’s website for more information:

• We will teach sex education within a context of social and emotional learning and help young people learn how to make good decisions about their bodies and their relationships. The program emphasizes abstinence and promotes the values of respect, commitment, and trust.

• We will constantly reassess and re-evaluate what we are doing and improve our efforts and program. We will survey students and parents to get their feedback and make necessary adjustments. We may make mistakes along the way, but we will work hard to ensure the development and implementation of a sex education program that complements and supports our parents’ efforts and meets the community’s expectations.

So far, the sex education discussion in Needham has been thoughtful and respectful. In the end, I am glad we are having a community conversation about an important topic. I am happy we are all thinking about the young people in our lives who are looking to us for good information, a balanced perspective, and an honest conversation to assist them to make thoughtful decisions as they navigate adolescence and a world that is often indifferent to their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Let’s keep the conversation going and the focus on what’s best for all of our kids.


  1. A lot of well thought-out work has gone into the new sex education program. I attended one of Kathy Pinkham's presentations and she and her colleagues, with input from parents, have put together an excellent program, which was much needed.

  2. Thank you to all who worked on this -your work, patience and staying the course on this most important topic will make a difference for the students of the NPS.