STORY BY JOE DEJKA AND ERIN DUFFY | ILLUSTRATIONS BY MATT HANEY | THE WORLD-HERALD
By Joe Dejka and Erin Duffy / World-Herald staff writer
Saturday, February 11, 2017
For the first time in three decades, the Omaha Public Schools have a new health and sex education curriculum designed to help students navigate the waters of puberty, dating and sex. The new curriculum tackles a number of previously forbidden topics, such as abortion, emergency contraception, sexual orientation and gender identity. The World-Herald took a deep dive through hundreds of pages of curriculum for middle and high schoolers. What we found is presented below. The material has been summarized, but actual wording from texts, videos, PowerPoints and handouts is included whenever possible. This is not the entire curriculum, but a sampling of the topics likely to interest readers. Our review focused on seventh, eighth and 10th grades, but human growth and development is also taught in fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Students learn that sexual orientation is “part of a person’s personality” and “defines the way he or she is attracted to others.” Different materials broach the pressures LGBT teens may face. “Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens may feel pressure to hide their sexual orientation because of prejudice,” the book used in eighth grade reads. “Sometimes family or cultural values may put pressure on a teen to hide his or her sexual identity.” A video introduces students to Sam, a gay 16-year-old from Massachusetts who said coming out had its rough moments. “I felt really alone and like there wasn’t anybody like me,” he said. Students are reminded that all people are unique and deserve respect. “A person should not be judged or treated badly because of his or her feelings for others,” a PowerPoint slide says. Teens also are warned against experimenting sexually if they’re unsure of their orientation, saying sexual activity has consequences, including risks of STDs and teen pregnancy. 10TH GRADE As people mature sexually they begin to establish their sexual orientation, according to a textbook used in the 10th grade. “Most people are heterosexual — as adults they are attracted to people of the opposite sex,” it says. “Some people are homosexual — as adults they are attracted to members of their own sex. Adults who are attracted to members of both sexes are called bisexual.” It is not unusual, according to the textbook, for young adolescents to prefer friends of their own gender, to have same-sex crushes on older friends or even to have some sexual attraction to members of their own sex. “This does not mean that they are or will be homosexual or bisexual. In many cases, this is just a part of the process of working through and establishing sexual orientation,” the textbook says. “Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, it is a natural part of his or her own sexuality.” Students are told lesbian, gay and bisexual people have not achieved the same rights as heterosexual Americans — noting discrimination in the workplace, housing and medical settings — and it says people cannot change their orientation. “Feelings of attraction are discovered, not chosen,” it says. “It isn’t something we can turn on and off like a light switch. We don’t choose who we are attracted to.” BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Abortion is not covered. 10TH GRADE Abortion is presented as an option for an unplanned pregnancy. A woman considering it should seek counseling and accurate information, a textbook says. “Abortion is a highly controversial issue,” the textbook says. “Some people think that abortion is wrong and should be illegal. Others think that abortion should be legal, but be more restricted. Still others think that abortion is a personal decision that should remain legal.” The controversy is not explored in detail. Specific procedures are not mentioned. In one lesson, students view a video titled “Big Status Update,” which depicts what text messages might look like if exchanged between teen mom Emily and her friends.
Emily: “Up till 4AM with Oliver” Vanessa: “OMG. R u doing OK?” Emily: “Just tired. Actually, I’m seriously stressed.” The teacher is prompted to say that while the girl in the video and the teen father chose to have and keep the baby, there are other options. “There are also two other choices someone who is pregnant has the right to consider — what are they?” the teacher says. Teachers are prompted to probe for and write on the board, “Place the baby for adoption” and “Have an abortion.” Students take part in an exercise where they list reasons why a teen might choose one of the three options. The teacher is prompted to say, “In the end, however, it is every pregnant person’s right to choose what they do about their pregnancy.” The text says that whatever they choose, they should decide early in the pregnancy. If they choose to have the baby, they will need to get prenatal care, it says. If they choose to abort, they must decide early as well. The text notes it’s important to know the state’s parental-consent law for teens wanting an abortion. Nebraska law requires girls under 18 to get consent from a parent or guardian. Minors who want to get an abortion without consent can file a petition seeking a court order to allow it. BACK TO TOP
Sexual assault, harassment and abuse
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Abuse can affect people of different backgrounds and is never the fault of the victim, stresses an eighth-grade unit. Resources differentiate among types of abuse and suggest ways for students to report abuse to trusted adults. Abuse can leave physical and emotional scars and lead to lifelong problems, such as low self-esteem, suicidal feelings, and alcohol and drug abuse, students learn. Abuse can occur between dating partners, siblings, friends, and parents and their children, and can be cyclical or repeated through generations. “Often, abusers will try to make the people they abuse believe that they deserve to be treated harshly,” one textbook reads. “This is never true.” Students also learn ways to remain safe from other dangers: Don’t hitchhike, give out personal information online or walk in dark, deserted areas. 10TH GRADE
Students learn warning signs of relationship abuse, such as fighting a lot or not feeling like you can be yourself. A partner may be controlling, extremely jealous, hurt a partner or force the partner to have sex. Lessons emphasize that victims are “not to blame for the abuse and that you cannot change how your abuser behaves.” Students examine a scenario where a girl describes the first time a boy “just exploded” and hit her. “I forgave him. I loved him and didn’t want to lose him. Accidents happen, right? Two weeks later, it happened again.” Students learn to recognize signs of abuse in friends, such as bruises, or wearing turtlenecks or long pants in warm weather. Students learn about sexual harassment. One text defines it as “any deliberate or repeated behavior or action that is unwelcome, hostile, offensive or degrading to the recipient.” Students are taught about rape, date rape and statutory rape. Students are told assault victims may be embarrassed, may not want to get anyone in trouble and may not think it was assault. “In an attempt to find someone to blame, the finger is often mistakenly pointed at the survivor,” a textbook says. Blame, it says, belongs “to the rapist and the rapist alone.” Males are told to believe that “no means no.” Women, a textbook says, should communicate their limits clearly and should “say ‘no’ when you mean ‘no.’ ”
The lessons teach what Nebraska law says about consent. The text provides Nebraska’s legal definitions of sexual assault and sexual assault of a child. A textbook describes incest and pedophilia. Prostitution and pornography are described as two industries that make a profit from sexual exploitation. BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Seventh-graders get a brief rundown from a one-page lesson, which defines and gives examples of contraceptives. Students are reminded that outside of abstinence, no methods are foolproof when it comes to preventing pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. They’re also warned that withdrawal during sex is not an effective form of birth control. The book explains the difference between over-the-counter contraceptives, such as condoms, and birth control methods prescribed by a doctor, such as the pill.
The Omaha Public Schools curriculum uses scenarios to teach students how to handle various sexual situations. The scenarios deal with topics such as how to refuse unprotected sex, recognize harassment, negotiate condom use and stay safe online. Sometimes students are asked to role-play. Other times they are asked to read and review the scenarios. Typically, then teachers guide students in a discussion. Below are some examples. Eighth grade, students read the situation and then work with a partner to come up with at least three talking points for negotiating condom use Dana and Brett have been going out for about a year. Recently they started talking about becoming sexually active. Dana wants to be sure they use condoms. What are some talking points Dana could use when talking to Brett?
Eighth-grade students learn about using condoms — specifically latex and plastic condoms — to protect against pregnancy and STDs if and when they decide to start having sex. “Abstinence is the best way for teens to protect their sexual health and avoid pregnancy and STDs,” one textbook says. “But when people choose to be sexually active, they should have safer sex by using condoms correctly every time.” Students also learn that condoms are not 100 percent effective and that STDs — such as herpes and HPV — can spread by skin-to-skin contact if a condom doesn’t cover the area exposed to those viruses. Students review places to buy or procure free condoms and what to do if they’re too embarrassed to ask for condoms at a store. Another lesson covers “condom negotiation”: making sure condoms are used during sex. Teens are told to practice saying no to sex if condoms aren’t available or a partner refuses to wear one. “If your partner said, ‘Using a condom will spoil the mood,’ you could say, ‘No, not having sex will really spoil the mood. But we’re not going to have sex unless we use condoms.’?” 10TH GRADE Students learn about three categories of contraception: barrier, hormonal and permanent. Advantages and disadvantages are discussed for various methods, including male and female condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap, shield, sponge and spermicide, oral contraceptives (the pill), patches, rings and injections. The text describes permanent methods: vasectomy, tubal ligation and sterilization implant. “Permanent methods of contraception,” it says, “are only appropriate for people who are sure that they either do not want any children or do not want more children.” Emergency contraception pills are explained. Students are advised to use them only in genuine emergencies. According to the text, “Emergency contraception (EC) methods can be used to help prevent a pregnancy after a women has unprotected sex. EC works best when it’s used right away and no later than 3 to 5 days after sex.” In the lessons, teachers explain how to care for and use condoms, how they break down in heat and light, how they can expire, and that they should be stored in a cool, dry place. The teacher shows students how to inspect the condom package for damage. “When you take the condom out, check to be sure it doesn’t feel sticky, brittle or very dry. You should always open the package carefully. Teeth, fingernails or jewelry can damage the condom by tearing it or putting a hole in it.” The teacher then demonstrates steps for using a condom: “Now I’m going to demonstrate the proper way to use a condom,” the text says. “I’ll use two fingers to represent the penis.” The lesson includes a slide with step-by-step instruction on how to use a condom. BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Though the official lesson on teen pregnancy is scheduled to last one day in eighth grade, the message that teen pregnancies can be difficult, life-changing and should be avoided at all costs is woven into multiple lessons in middle school. “The choice to become sexually active during the teen years carries enormous consequences,” one textbook explains. “An unplanned pregnancy can interfere with a teen’s future goals and dreams.” In one eighth-grade lesson, students are asked to list the ways a teen’s life could be changed by an unintended pregnancy and reminded that abstinence is the best way to avoid becoming a parent too soon.
10th-grade role-play scenario, dealing with sexual harassment Scene Three friends are standing in the hallway talking. Evan passes by them on the way to his locker. Actors Michelle: Dates only football players and is very popular. Cheyenne: Michelle’s best friend, who laughs at anything she says. Jackie: Friends with Michelle and Cheyenne, but doesn’t think Michelle’s comments are funny. Evan: Hurt and angered by Michelle’s comments. Scenario Michelle: “Hey, did you see they posted the results from the football tryouts?” (Michelle points to the results, which are hanging on the wall.) Cheyenne (glances at the list): “Any surprises?” Michelle: “No.” (Michelle looks over at Evan, who is trying to get into his locker.) “SOME people didn’t even try out. Some people don’t even LIKE football.” Jackie (gives Michelle a look to try to get her to be quiet): “Michelle, I…” Michelle (loudly): “I guess some guys are just a little too ‘artsy’ for that … if you know what I mean.” Cheyenne: “Yeah, you mean a little too GAY!” (Cheyenne laughs) Jackie: (rolls her eyes in disgust and looks at Evan) Evan rushes past them without looking at them. The teacher leads students in a discussion on the scenario, probing how Evan felt about the comments, what was wrong with what Michelle and Cheyenne said, and why Jackie didn't stand up for Evan.
In a seventh-grade activity, teens are told to have parents randomly set alarms to go off, to demonstrate the attention needy babies require. Teachers are told to review the consequences of teen pregnancy, including the risk of premature and low-birth-weight babies. Babies born to teens are more likely to die within the first month after birth, the book says. Teen moms are more likely to drop out of school, and both parents will likely have to work to support their new family. Friends who can’t relate to having a baby may fade away. Teens who think they might be pregnant need to take a test and should talk to a trusted adult, like a parent, even if they’re worried that their family might be angry or disappointed. Pregnant teens need to receive prenatal care to improve the chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. 10TH GRADE Students learn the biology of pregnancy, from fertilization through birth, with detailed descriptions of sex organs and their function. They learn the hardships teens face raising children, that parenthood is a lifelong commitment and that children do best when parents are in a stable, committed relationship. The lessons teach that becoming a parent can limit options and complicate a teen’s life. Parents must provide clothing, food, shelter, education and medical care for a child, one textbook says. Teen parents can feel stress or break up. They have less time to spend with friends. They are less likely to finish high school and have fewer opportunities in the future because of less education. “If teen parents do stay together or marry, they often must leave school and have difficulty finding a decent job and an affordable place to live,” the text says. Pregnant teens, students are told, face risks to their health and to the health of the fetus that most pregnant women in their 20s and 30s do not face. Young teens are more likely to experience pre-eclampsia and premature birth. Babies of teen mothers are more likely to suffer health problems, including low birth weight, birth defects and delayed development. The lessons touch on adoption, advising that it should be handled by a public agency or licensed private agency. “Deciding to give up a baby is difficult. It is normal for parents to wonder about the child for a long time after the adoption. Sharing these feelings with a counselor or other trusted individual can help a person cope with this difficult decision.” BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Middle schoolers are told the best way to protect their bodies, hearts and futures is by abstaining from sex. “When you are abstinent you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant,” an eighth-grade lesson states. “You keep your body healthy by avoiding STDs, including HIV. You have time to focus on family, friends, school and other activities without the risks or pressures of a sexual relationship.” Most teens choose abstinence, one textbook says. Seventh-graders watch a news clip about an abstinence club for teenage girls in New Jersey and hear girls talk about facing pressure from boys. Teens are asked to list the benefits of abstinence, and are given tips for how to talk to their partners about refraining from sexual activity: Be firm about setting limits on getting physical in a relationship, and avoid situations that could test those limits, such as being alone together or using drugs or alcohol. Students do abstinence activities: Design a bumper sticker with an abstinence slogan; talk with parents about making an abstinence pledge; and differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate gestures between partners, such as watching an R-rated movie together or putting your arm around someone. And discuss the answers. “A boyfriend or girlfriend might put pressure on you to go past the limits you’ve set around sex, or your feelings of attraction or curiosity might make it hard to stick to your choice to be abstinent,” a lesson says. 10TH GRADE
Abstinence is described in a text as “the best choice for teens.” Some people choose to be sexually active, but they must have the maturity to protect themselves and their partners from unintended pregnancy and STDs, the lessons say. Sexually active people might suffer a damaged reputation, get used by a partner, complicate the relationship and disappoint parents. “Abstinence is the safest, most effective way to protect yourself from HIV, other STDs and pregnancy,” the textbook says. “Having sex before you’re ready can also have emotional consequences, such as guilt, worry, loss of self-respect, and feeling hurt or sad if a relationship doesn’t work out.” Students are told nobody has the right to pressure or force someone else to have sex. Students discuss “barriers,” or challenges, to being abstinent, such as feeling left out, getting sexual pressure from friends and worrying about losing a boyfriend or girlfriend. The latter barrier, it says, could be addressed by believing in your choices, and knowing that finding someone who shares your values is important. In one exercise, students suggest activities that would fit with an abstinent or sexually active lifestyle. The text gives examples of activities that teachers could list in the abstinent category: giving a back rub, French kissing and touching above the waist through clothing. Touching a partner’s genitals, oral sex and sexual intercourse are listed in the sexually active category. Students rate activities by the degree of risk they pose of leading to sex, such as kissing, sexting or using alcohol. Alcohol and drugs are mentioned as making it harder to stick to a choice of abstinence. Statistics are cited to counter perceptions that most teens are sexually active. BACK TO TOP
STDs and HIV/AIDS
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Students learn that young adults make up a large chunk of new sexually transmitted infections. They learn about STDs such as herpes, human papillomavirus, gonorrhea and chlamydia. They’re told some STDs can be treated, some are curable, some are not. “The good news is that STDs are preventable,” a text says. “They can be prevented by avoiding high-risk activities like sexual activity or sharing needles.” If you think you have an STD, students are told, it’s important to get tested, tell sexual partners, get treatment and take steps to avoid future infections, whether that’s abstaining from sex or using condoms. “Pretend you have a friend who says, ‘STDs aren’t a big deal. If you have symptoms, you just go see a doctor and get some medicine,’?” an activity for eighth-graders says. “What would you say to convince your friend STDs are serious?”
Teachers can screen a news clip from “The Early Show” with a CDC official who talks about progress in developing new tests and life-prolonging treatments for HIV/AIDS and those who remain at greater risk for infection in the United States: black, gay and bisexual men. Teachers are advised to clarify that people’s behaviors put them at risk, not their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Students review the ways HIV/AIDS can be transmitted — semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk — and the ways it can’t — handshakes, toilet seats, mosquitoes. 10TH GRADE
Students learn about common STDs. They examine why teens might not get tested for STDs and identify ways to address those barriers. Details are given on the transmission, symptoms, treatment and prevention of STDs. Other transmission methods noted are sharing needles or from mother to baby during childbirth. Body piercings and tattoos can also transmit disease, one textbook says. The lesson describes how STDs can damage reproductive organs and harm unborn babies. “All sexually active people — whether they are straight, gay or lesbian, or bisexual — are at risk for STD unless they take steps to protect themselves and their partners,” the textbook says. Students are told that latex condoms lower the risk of most types of STDs, but some diseases can be spread by skin-to-skin touching, such as oral sex. Students explore why teens don’t seek medical attention, including fear of seeing someone they know at the clinic, fearing what people would think and not wanting to admit they have an STD. The lessons suggest that teens go to a clinic in another neighborhood, think about the consequences of not getting treated and recognize that it’s better to know than to get sick or give an STD to someone. They learn HIV/AIDS has no cure, but the surest way to avoid infection is to be abstinent and never share needles. Students learn the STD risk of having multiple sex partners.
Classes watch a public service message from Get Checked Omaha called STD Zombie. A zombie about to attack a girl stops to ask if she has an STD. When she says she isn’t sure, he breaks off his attack and encourages her to get tested. BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES The lesson introduces students to the term “transgender” and delves into gender roles. One textbook highlights the differences between sexual orientation — whom you’re attracted to — and gender identity — the biological traits of people, or how they view themselves in relation to gender. The textbook defines transgender as “a general term describing an individual whose gender identity differs from that of his or her biological traits. For example, a person might be born with a male body but feel like a female. This person may want to dress and be known as a female.” Like the section on sexual orientation, the lesson touches on the teasing and bullying that people questioning their gender identity may face, and maintains an underlying message of respect. “Respect others’ points of view,” one lesson for eighth-graders reads. “For example, if someone looks or dresses differently from you, don’t make fun of him or her. ... Others have a right to be who they are.” Other lessons focus on gender roles and stereotypes — what’s considered manly or girlie, and how attitudes, magazines or TV shows shape or reinforce those ideas.
Grade 7 Teen Health, McGraw-Hill Education HealthSmart Middle School: Abstinence, Puberty & Personal Health, ETR Rights, Respect, Responsibility, Advocates for Youth (Omaha version) Common Sense Media Grade 8 Teen Health, McGraw-Hill Education HealthSmart Middle School: HIV, STD & Pregnancy Prevention, ETR Rights, Respect, Responsibility, Advocates for Youth (Omaha version) Love U 2: Dating Smarts, The Dibble Institute Common Sense Media Grade 10 Human Sexuality, Pearson Education HealthSmart High School: Abstinence, Personal and Sexual Health, ETR HealthSmart High School: HIV, STD & Pregnancy Prevention, ETR Pearson Health, Pearson Education Rights, Respect, Responsibility, Advocates for Youth (Omaha version) Relationship Smarts Plus 3.0, The Dibble Institute Step Up, Speak Out: Reaching and Teaching Teens to Stop Violence, Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Common Sense Media
In a lesson called “Blue Is for Boys, Pink Is for Girls?…?Or Are They?,” teachers ask students to consider the pressure students who don’t identify with their gender at birth may feel to fit in. “Think, for a moment, about the experience of hearing these gendered messages and feeling like you were a different gender,” the lesson instructs teachers to say. “If you felt on the inside like you were a girl, but everyone perceived you as a boy and pushed you to be really masculine; or you felt on the inside that you were a boy and people pushed you to be more feminine. What do you think that would be like?” In an eighth-grade lesson, students can fill out a worksheet of how they would respond to examples of sexual stereotyping, including: “Your older sister wouldn’t try out for the softball team. She said, ‘All female athletes are lesbians.’ What could you say or do?” “You heard your classmates talking about a friend of yours. They said, ‘He’s so gay, you can tell by the way he walks.’ What could you say or do?” 10TH GRADE Gender identity is defined as “how people see themselves in relation to being male or female.” “Most of the time, a boy feels comfortable with his male body, and a girl feels comfortable with her female body,” one textbook says. “Some people are transgender. They are born as one sex, but feel more like the other. It’s as if they were born into the wrong body.” The textbook notes that transgender people can have any sexual orientation. Some people recognize their gender identity and sexual orientation from an early age, one textbook says. “Other people may continue to have questions about these aspects of their sexuality throughout their teen years and into adulthood,” it says. One textbook says gender roles can be influenced by a person’s family, culture, peers and society, and can change over time. In one lesson, students take a “Gender Roles and Movies Quiz,” answering questions about whether movies depict traditional gender roles. Sample questions include: “Do the females tend to be less assertive than the males?” “Are the male roles more action-oriented than the female roles?” According to one lesson, “Most societies are stuck in a binary gender perspective — meaning that there needs to be a man figure and a woman figure in a relationship for it to work.” That view promotes stereotypes, it says, and it doesn’t account for relationships such as a female partner who supports the family financially while the male is a stay-at-home dad. The textbook calls on students to accept other people’s decisions on sexuality. “Respecting people’s differences creates an atmosphere of acceptance and support that can help all people understand their sexuality, take care of their bodies, communicate clearly and achieve good sexual health.” BACK TO TOP
Internet safety and sexting
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Texting or social media sites like Instagram can be a great way to connect with friends or share photos, but they can have a dark side, students learn. Seventh-grade classes discuss the ways strangers can safely interact online: sharing music, playing games together or chatting. But communicating online can be risky too: Strangers may ask for personal information, leave mean comments or turn flirting into something sexual. Students are told to listen to their gut: Cut off contact or tell an adult if someone online requests a picture, asks to meet in private or tells them to keep a conversation secret. In a teacher note, educators are told not to rely solely on the stereotype of the “creepy old man” online predator. “In reality, when online sexual solicitation does occur, it’s more likely to be between two teens, or between a teen and a young adult,” teachers are instructed.
Eighth grade, responding to various role-play scenarios Scenario No. 3 You get a note from a guy in your school telling you he thinks you are pretty, nice, cool, or whatever. He says he likes you and then asks you to write back and tell him if you like him or want to “go” with him. You don’t, so what do you do? Scenario No. 5 A girl likes you at school and you sort of like her but you’re not ready to “go” with anyone. Her friends keep calling your house and won’t stop bugging you. What should you do?
In another lesson, students discuss how things can be misconstrued via text message. They also learn how to vet websites and other media to make sure they’re accurate, and they learn to identify any biases. Sexting looms large in eighth-grade lessons that warn how hard it can be to scrub inappropriate photos or texts from the web, pointing to nude photo leaks that have harmed celebrities. Students watch videos from an MTV special on sexting that shows teens who regretted sharing intimate photos. If you send a sext — a sexually suggestive or explicit message or photo — don’t panic, ask the recipient to delete it immediately and tell an adult. Depending on state laws, people who send or receive inappropriate pictures can face jail time or be branded a sex offender, students are told. Inappropriate content on the web — not just photos, but tweets, posts and comments — can get teens in trouble with their parents, prospective colleges and future employers. Students determine whether situations represent a risky or safe use of digital media: “Jack tweets ‘I have the best girlfriend ever!’?” (safe) “Monica surprises her crush by taking off some of her clothes during a video chat.” (risky) Students should take pains to lock down privacy settings on social media sites and think twice about risqué chats or posting photos with drugs or alcohol. “So before you post, tweet, text, or press that send button, take a moment and think: Could this photo get me in trouble?” one lesson says. “Could this get my partner or friend in trouble?” 10TH GRADE Students are taught to keep their identities private, be wary of people they meet online, and not to respond to inappropriate messages. They are told to be wary of free gifts and contests, and never give their home address, phone number or photo. Students are warned not to say things online that they wouldn’t say face to face. Don’t respond to cyberbullying, it says. In one lesson, students watch a video in which a teen girl creates a hate website about another girl. Students discuss what actions they can take when they encounter online cruelty, including how to stand up for a friend. Students read about a scenario where a girl starts texting and then sexting a college guy who was a counselor at the camp she attended. He asks her to send pictures of herself in her swimsuit at camp. “Once you send a sexual image or text message, you can’t take it back, and you have no control over what happens to it or where it ends up,” the lesson says. “Even if you intend it just for one other person, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend, it can easily be passed on to others or even posted on the Internet.” Sometimes when dating relationships or friendships end badly, the sexy photos shared during a relationship can become ammunition for revenge and cyberbullying, a textbook says.
A video called “Face Time” shows how texts can be misunderstood and how face-to-face communication is more personal and effective. In another video, “Think What’s Next,” a girl considers her boyfriend’s request to send him nude pictures. After envisioning how the pictures could end up in someone else’s hands, she refuses. A third video, “The Accidental Bully,” shows a boy’s embarrassment when the girl he’s smitten with posts his love letter online. In one lesson, students learn things to say when someone asks for a sext, such as “Gee ... can you say stupid?” Students are told that media messages about sexuality may contradict what they learned from family. Some TV programs and movies ignore the risks such as unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, a textbook says. Song lyrics sometimes treat women as objects or glorify sexual violence, one textbook says. BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Lessons focus on decision-making and refusal skills. Seventh-graders are encouraged to fill out an abstinence plan and share it with friends and family. But sometimes teens may need to think on their feet to resist pressure. Avoiding risky situations — dating someone older or going to a party where there are drugs or alcohol — can help, but so can practicing resistance to what are called “pressure lines.” “If you loved me, you would show me.” “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this. Don’t you trust me?” Students are told to practice saying “no” in a firm voice, using serious body language and suggesting alternatives to sex. “No, I don’t want to make out. Let’s go for a walk instead.” Students practice identifying the choices, benefits and consequences of one scenario: “Seth and Tasha are middle school students. For the past few months, Seth has been spending more time with Tasha and thinks about her all the time. Tasha tells Seth that her parents are out of town. She invites him to come over and watch a movie. What should Seth decide about Tasha’s invitation?” Using one scenario, students discuss the people and outside forces that can influence decisions, from parents to media. Leah and Malik are considering whether to have sex but are worried about STDs and pregnancy. Leah and her friends watch shows like “16 and Pregnant” and talk about what happens to people who have sex on those shows. Malik sometimes drinks and gets touchy-feely with Leah. Both have religious or conservative parents with whom they don’t feel comfortable talking about sex, but Leah has a good relationship with her mom’s best friend. Malik’s best friend has had sex and asks what he’s waiting for. “Who or what do you think has a LOT of influence on Malik? Why?” students are asked on a worksheet. “What does this tell you about making decisions about big things in your life, like sex and sexuality?” 10TH GRADE Students are taught to be decisive rather than “sliding” in bad relationships. They are taught to look at all the choices and consequences. Students explore decision-making scenarios. For example: “Casey wants to stay abstinent at least until he or she graduates from high school. Someone Casey really likes but doesn’t know very well yet has invited Casey to go to a party on Saturday night. Casey has heard that there may be alcohol at the party and that the parents of the teen who’s hosting it might be out of town. What should Casey decide to do?” Teens learn about self-control. If facing sexual pressure, a textbook says, students may need to remove themselves from the situation. Students discuss barriers to making good decisions, such as pressure from others, their own feelings of sexual attraction, not deciding sexual limits ahead of time and perceived norms around sexual activity. One lesson suggests hanging out with friends who respect their beliefs and embrace abstinence. Students are encouraged to clarify their sexual values and to understand the benefits and risks of where they set their boundaries.
In one lesson students watch a music video called “S.E.X.” by Lyfe Jennings. The video is a warning to girls to not give up their innocence to men who would take advantage of them. The lyrics: “Life’s a trip, Virgin just turned 17 and finally got some hips, Hustlas on the block go crazy when you lick your lips, But they just want relation, they don’t want relationship. Welcome to the real world.” Students are told of teens who regretted deciding to have sex. Amber, 17, said: “I figured out that I was just something temporary and exciting for Ryan. But to me, he was the biggest thing in my life, my first love. I gave him my virginity, my heart, everything. But he ditched me for some other girl who was better at sex. I know because my friend got it out of him. Guys are mostly players who really don’t care about you.” Most sexually experienced teens didn’t plan to have sex — it just happened. Having a clear boundary in your mind before you get affectionate with someone is important, students are told. Students are taught tips for refusing: » Don’t be wishy-washy — say NO. » Repeat it, again and again. » Show you mean it — serious expression. BACK TO TOP
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADES Seventh and eighth grades: Middle schoolers get lessons on how to dip their toes into the dating pool, handle rejection and recognize that puppy love isn’t the same as true love. Teens learn that hormones can trigger the rush of feelings — sweaty palms, racing heartbeat — related to attraction, infatuation and lust. But materials caution students not to confuse love and lust. “Infatuation is exciting and fascinating, but it can be one-sided, imaginary and fluctuating,” a lesson for eighth-graders instructs. Many people look back on experiences during teen years and recognize what they thought was love was really infatuation, it says. Students get schooled on how to plan a responsible date — group dates at the movies or mini-golf can help avoid one-on-one situations that lead to sex — and are told that it’s natural to feel lonely or hurt after a breakup. They’re also encouraged to talk with their parents and lay down ground rules about dating, such as when they can start. Students are encouraged to date people with similar values and discouraged from believing everyone else is having sex but them. Lessons weave in messages that prize abstinence and stress the potential consequences of having sex too early: heartbreak, STDs and unplanned pregnancies. “Having sexual feelings is normal,” one passage reads. “However, the risks for teens are enormous. Most teens are not ready to handle the consequences of being sexually active.” Teens are asked to list the traits that contribute to strong and healthy relationships, such as mutual respect, honesty and open communication. Unhealthy relationships that should be ended could be characterized by “jealousy, over-dependence, selfishness, control, lack of respect, abuse,” according to a lesson.
Pssst. Have you heard what they’re teaching kids about sex in Omaha Public Schools? What you heard, it turns out, may not be true. Read more
10TH GRADE Students are taught it is natural and healthy to feel attraction and want to know someone better, which may lead to dating as a couple or with other couples. By dating someone, the lessons say, you can learn about his or her interests, personality, abilities and values. “When teens do date, some stick to traditional practices,” one text says. “For example, females may wait for males to ask them out, or expect the males to pay for the date. Today, however, many dating arrangements are more informal than in the past.” One textbook says hanging out and talking is a good way to get to know someone. Dating exclusively can give a sense of security, but also has drawbacks. People limit their chances of meeting other people they might like, the textbooks say. And people might feel pressured to make decisions about sexual intimacy before they’re ready. Exclusive relationships could be difficult to break off, it says. In one lesson, students take a true-false “Test Your Love Smarts” quiz. » There is probably only one person meant for you. False: While you are not attracted to just anyone, there is more than one person in the world to whom you could be attracted and with whom you could have a great relationship. » Breaking up should be done slowly so you don’t hurt the other person too much. False: To go slowly only drags out the pain for the person being dumped. It is better to be brutally honest and make a clean break than to give a person false hope. However, you don’t have to be mean about it. The lesson distinguishes between relationships built on a solid foundation and those that start out with a shaky one, such as having sex early on, before the people know each other well. Lessons explore the chemistry of attraction: “When you come into contact with a person to whom you are highly attracted, your brain becomes saturated with amphetamine-like neurotransmitters that trigger incredible side effects. ?“The scientific names for these are norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. We’ll simply call them the love chemicals. You are, in a very real sense, in a drugged state.” The text encourages students to enjoy those feelings, but to take time and care to read their true meaning. Real love takes time and is based on knowledge and feelings. Sex, they are told, can truly fool a person into thinking there is more to a relationship than there really is. * * * * * Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Get Checked Omaha campaign as Get Tested Omaha. BACK TO TOP
The Omaha school district was looking for curriculum covering the thorny topics of gender identity and sexual orientation when it settled on lessons from a resource called Rights, Respect, Responsibility. Read story