AAPS considers adopting new curriculum to help prevent child sexual abuse
A new curriculum designed for students in preschool through second grades to teach safe body rules under review by the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education could help prevent child sexual abuse.
The Board reviewed the details of the new curriculum during its regular meeting Wednesday night from the Sexual Health Education Advisory Committee, a state-mandated entity that has given its full support to the new program.
The curriculum is one currently used by the Washtenaw Area Council for Children, the Michigan Children's Trust Fund designated agency for the prevention of child abuse and neglect in Washtenaw County. The council brought the program to the committee for approval.
Trained representatives from the Washtenaw Area Council for Children would visit classrooms for 15-minute sessions for 10 days over two weeks. Lessons start with identifying "private parts," and developing the rule of who is the boss of your body.
The curriculum later includes the correct naming of body parts, what to do when home alone or alone in a car, and who is allowed to touch and see a person’s private parts.
The program includes handouts from each lesson for the students to take home and share with their parents. Parents are notified of when the program begins, and can choose to opt their child out.
The Washtenaw Area Council for Children offers the program free of charge to the school district.
Between 25 and 35 percent of sexually abused children are abused before the age of 7, said Dr. Patricia Wells, incoming co-chair of the advisory committee.
“It’s important to find quality, evidence-based curriculum that empowers children to understand their personal boundaries,” Wells said.
Trustee Andy Thomas expressed his concern that recent cases of child sexual abuse - both at Penn State and locally - would leave many children with questions for their teachers that could be brought up with the program. Thomas asked the committee what their guidelines were for leaving the script of the lesson plans in the program.
“On the playgrounds of elementary school, I’m assuming a lot of things get brought up that we’d probably not rather have brought up,” Thomas said.
“I don’t know if kindergartners or first graders would be aware of what happened at Penn State,” said Margie Long, outgoing co-chair of the committee.
Marcia Dykstra, program director for the Washtenaw Area Council for Children, said that when students push the limits of the curriculum and the approved script, the students are instructed to ask their parents about the matter.
The scripted lesson plan allows the student to get the information they need in a developmentally-appropriate way.
Trustee Susan Baskett asked the committee to explain where in the curriculum children are instructed as to how and why they should report if their body safety rules are violated.
Dykstra responded by explaining students will learn about mid-way in the curriculum that teachers are good people to report the information to, and that it’s not good to keep that a secret.
Teachers in the school district are currently recommended to cover body safety information, but often feel ill-equipped to deal with the sensitive subject and appreciate having the resource of the program, according to an emailed statement from Dykstra to AnnArbor.com.
“For many years we provided a similar program for children in grades K-5 which was approved by AAPS and all the other school districts in Washtenaw. We reluctantly retired it a few years ago, mainly due to funding. The need for sexual abuse programming in the schools however has not gone away,” according to the statement from Dykstra.
Dysktra stated parents should be the ones talking to their children about personal safety, but many times it’s not the reality.
No public comment was given at the Board’s meeting Wednesday night on the adoption of the curriculum. A second public hearing will be Oct. 10 at the Board of Education’s regular meeting.
The Board also reviewed an updated puberty video for students in fifth to eighth grades during its meeting Wednesday. Committee members said the update was necessary because students were previously distracted by the dated nature of the actors’ clothing in the current video.
Both the “We’re Just Around the Corner” DVD and the Body Safety Training lesson plan are available at the Board of Education’s office at 2555 S. State St. in Ann Arbor for review.