OC curriculum committee wants close look at options for sexuality lessons

The Oil City School District’s curriculum and education committee laid out recommendations Monday for how the district should move forward with its ongoing plans for sexuality and sexual harassment lessons.

The lessons have been taught to Oil City middle school students without school board approval since the fall of 2021, and discussions about the subject have been the main focus of recent board meetings.

School board member Mark Kerr, who chairs the curriculum committee, said Monday “it would appear there are competing slates of programming and we want to hear from them.”

So Kerr said it is the curriculum committee’s recommendation that the district request proposals for curriculum and review all the proposals that are submitted by a set deadline.

Then, Kerr said, the next step would be presentations by the interested parties so any interested people can hear what is being proposed at a public meeting.

After the presentations and time for school board members and the curriculum committee to digest the information, the committee would make a recommendation and the entire school board would vote on the recommendation, Kerr said.

He added that it is his hope the board would vote on the curriculum no later than July so there would be roughly six weeks before the start of the 2023-24 school year for parents and guardians to review the lessons chosen by the board and see if they want to opt their children out for religious reasons.

Kerr said this is a recommendation and not a binding decision. He added the school board will vote next week on the remaining lessons scheduled to be taught this year by the PPC Violence Free Network, and the committee will make its recommendation to the board about how to proceed with the curriculum in general.

In addition to Kerr, the curriculum and education committee is made up of school board members Leigh Ann Pikna, Jon Piercy and Tyler Johnson, as well as superintendent Lynda Weller.

Kerr noted that Johnson was absent from Monday’s meeting because he was out of state and had been unable to attend the meeting virtually.

Kerr also announced, with Johnson’s permission, that Johnson will be heading up an ad hoc committee made up of a community member and school administrator, both picked by Johnson, to review the school district’s policy that deals with the rules for students being excused from instruction.

That ad hoc committee will proceed at Johnson’s pace and report to the curriculum committee, Kerr added.

During Monday’s meeting, Kerr asked Weller if it was the intent of the school district to continue teaching lessons on bullying and sexual harassment in future years.

Weller said yes that is the case, whether the lessons are provided by PPC or not, and she said the district’s implementation of these materials resulted from a Title IX investigation at the district in February 2021.

She explained that an attorney with Knox Law, which was representing the district in regard to Title IX, recommended to administrators they implement anti- bullying and sexual harassment curriculum and recommended looking to the state Department of Education for resources.

Weller said Tracy Delmonaco, the district’s director of special education and student services, followed that recommendation and found the We Care Elementary and SAFE-T lessons were available in this area and are taught by PPC.

The district doesn’t have a contract with PPC, Weller said, adding the district made the decision based on a longstanding relationship with Family Service and Children’s Aid Society of Venango County that goes back to 2008.

PPC is part of the Family Service umbrella.

Weller also gave a timeline for the We Care Elementary and Sexual Abuse Free Environment for Teens lessons adoption and implementation in the district, which began in 2021, as well as the timeline of parents objecting to the content of the lessons and the response to date of district administrators.

The committee members also questioned Megan O’Neil from PPC about the curriculum and the PPC prevention education staff members who provide the lessons.

O’Neil said the lesson on sexuality has already been taught for the year, and she gave an overview of the two lessons that remain to be taught to students in third grade through eighth grade, except for the fourth-grade students who have one lesson left.

O’Neil said the remaining lessons were about “recognizing and responding to feelings and boundaries” as well as identifying trusted adults and, for the older students, identifying abusive relationships and getting help.

When asked about the qualifications of the PPC staff who teach the lessons, O’Neil said PPC doesn’t require its educators to have a college degree, but they must have 80 hours of training through the Healthy Relationships Project.

She added that PPC is monitored by its funders, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, to make sure the agency is in compliance.

About 10 concerned parents, including Devon Aaron, who is running for a seat on the Oil City School Board this year, and community members attended the meeting.

Also in attendance were school board members Larry Sterner, Stephen Kelley, Shari Neely and Joe McFadden, who are not members of the curriculum committee but attended as members of the public.