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Sex ed, teacher reviews confront ICC board

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KINDERHOOK – Two controversial issues–teacher performance assessments and sex education–came before the board of the county’s largest school district this week.

Melissa Murray, the Ichabod Crane Central School District administrator in charge of creating the new the Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR, assessments for the district, said Tuesday that the state Education Department deadline for district plans is October 1. But she said the state has provision for waivers that extend the deadline until mid-March.

“We are meeting all our obligations,” Ms. Murray said at the August 18 meeting, referring to assessment information submitted to the state for the last school year and moving ahead with creating the new plan for this year.

She declined to say whether the district will need a waiver, but she did say she is making sure the district meets the requirements for a waiver if it comes to that. “I’m hopeful that if we apply for the waiver we will get it,” she said.

The performance reviews are linked to the results of the statewide tests for English and math for grades 3 through 8, and those tests were based on the state’s Common Core curriculum. When the tests were given last spring, parents rebelled and 66% of the students in the Ichabod Crane School District refused to take the tests. The district had the highest so-called “opt-out” rate in the Capital Region, according to the Times Union newspaper in Albany.

Ms. Murray did not comment on whether the limited number of students taking the tests would affect the APPR.

The requirements for the waiver include showing that the district has moved forward with a new APPR plan, including meeting with teachers and administrators. If the district does apply for a waiver, the current APPR plan would remain in effect until the new plan as approved.

The final date to have APPRs for all districts in place, according to Ms. Murray, is September 1, 2016. If a plan is not in place it could mean the loss of state funding increases.

Turning to another matter the Board of Education discussed state regulations covering health curriculum, in particular how sex education is handled. Schools Superintendent George Zini said that the state only mandates education on HIV/AIDS and its prevention, which stresses abstinence. Mr. Zini said that past administrations had told teachers that abstinence-only was what should be taught.

“I think at this time we should take a review of this,” he told the board, saying that there is a new health education curriculum for high school students.

He said that part of the state regulations say the board should appoint a council made up of members of the board and the community, including members of local religious organizations. The council would review the HIV/AIDS curriculum, and the entire school board would then review the council’s recommendations and approve the curriculum.

Mr. Zini also talked about parents being able to request that their students be excused from the HIV/AIDS discussion if they did not agree with what was being discussed.

Board member Kyle Aschenbrenner agreed the district needed to review the health education curriculum and that students need education about sex. “We need to put every option out there for these kids,” she said.

Board member John Antalek said that HIV/AIDS education and the sex education could each be a separate curriculum, since preventing HIV/AIDS transmission deals with sharing drug use needles as well sex.

Board member Regina Rose said sex education is important but she didn’t want it to look as if the district was condoning sexual activity among students.

“They are going to do it whether they are educated or not,” said Ms. Aschenbrenner.

Board Vice President John Chandler proposed a motion to create the council to review the HIV/AIDS curriculum, which the board approved. He also stressed that national statistics show that about 40% of both male and female high school students are having sex. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that of high school students’ surveyed in 2013, 47% had had sex.

Mr. Chandler said that sex education programs have proved to be effective in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, among other benefits. He talked about programs that “empower students to make responsible choices.”

“The program that we have now is pretty close to abstinence only,” he said of Ichabod Crane’s current program.

Mr. Zini said the administration would look at a program that emphasizes abstinence but gives students tools.

Also at the meeting:

  • The board approved the tax levy at $22,302,988. This year, residents can put their school taxes on a credit card. Detailed information on how to pay using credit card will be available on the district’s website, www.ichabodcrane.org/district/tax-info.php starting September 1 through October 30. Tax Liaison Mindy Potts will be available to answer questions on this new service Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4p.m., 518 758-7575, ext. 3001
  • Mr. Zini announced that the electronic sign in front of the school should go up next week as well as the swipe cards security locks on the high school doors, which are both part of the major capital facilities upgrade program. The district also added walls around the Middle School Library.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, September 8 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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