Majority of St. Charles School Board candidates agree with district’s decision to opt out of teaching state’s sex ed standards

Election 2024
The St. Charles School Board is voicing its opposition to a bill before the Illinois Senate that would require Illinois public schools to teach “age appropriate” sex education beginning in kindergarten. (Shaw Media file photo of D303 Bell Graham Elementary School)

The majority of the candidates for St. Charles School District 303 Board are supportive of the district’s decision to continue using the same sex education curriculum it has for years, rather than teach the state’s newly-adopted national standards.

Only one candidate, Richard Rivard, has said he would like to see the district fully adopt the National Sex Education Standards, which include guidelines for what should be taught in districts that choose to teach comprehensive sex education. The standards include a personal health and safety program for elementary school children and sets standards and guidelines districts should include in their curriculum for all grade levels.

According to Scott Harvey, D303′s chief communications officer, the district notified the state it was opting out from adopting the National Sex Education Standards.

“We are using our current standards that the district has been using for a number of years and will continue with our current curriculum,” Superintendent Paul Gordon said.

Three four-year terms are open on the St. Charles school board along with an unexpired two-year term. Incumbents Becky McCabe, Joseph Lackner and Matthew Kuschert, along with challengers Dolores Van Hiel, Lauren Duddles, Elias Palacios and Barbara Diepenbrock are running for the four-year terms. Thomas Lentz, Mike Backer and Rivard are running for one two-year term.

In an email, Rivard said he “unequivocally” believes the district should teach the National Sex Education Standards.

“In order to promote a sense of belonging amongst all groups of students, the sex ed program must be wide and inclusive as to reflect the reality of society,” he said. “The comprehensive presentation of these topics will allow our LGBTQ+ students and families to see themselves reflected in the materials and will work to expose other students and families to how other people live. Some material is a window into another person’s life and some material is a mirror that reflects how your own life is led. Breaking down these prejudices through the education process will lead to less bullying, ostracization and increased understanding amongst out community and schools. Furthermore, the education works to help students identify boundaries and will work to reduce what could be violent situations as they grow within the school system.”

The other candidates support the district’s decision to opt out of teaching the new standards, with some saying parents should have the biggest role in what children learn about sexual health.

“District #303 does not use the National Sex Education Standards,” McCabe wrote in a Shaw Media election questionnaire. “The state of Illinois gives local districts that option and we, as a Board, decided, along with the vast majority of school boards, to opt out. Our families have been satisfied with what we provide students in health classes and they have the opportunity to opt out if they so choose. I do not see any reason to change our current health curriculum.”

At a March 14 candidate forum at the Arcada Theatre, candidates were asked what role school districts should have in teaching students about sex education.

Diepenbrock said most people she has talked to about the topic would like to discuss “these sensitive subjects with their children themselves.”

“The National Sex Education Standards are great, I would say it is how we handle conversations with our children within our home,” she said. “I think that our world is changing quickly and there is a lot more our kids now know due to the internet and social media. This input is a lot for our kids and so in order to keep up with that, the NSES were updated. I think what we currently have in place is good with an option to opt out, but we should be making material available to our families to use in their home at their discretion. I would love to be given the material and the suggestions and to take steps to discuss things with my children per the recommendations.”

Duddles said that she has been reassured many times that there are no plans to implement new sex education standards.

“I agree that there is no reason to implement the new standards at this time,” she said.

Lackner said that “when we talk about things like sex ed standards, there’s a real push from the state government and the Illinois State Board of Education to take a particular point of view.”

“More than 70% of districts in Illinois, like D303, said ‘That’s not for us’, ” Lackner said. “The reason that you need a local board of folks who you trust in these conversations about these types of issues is that our community is not the same as other communities in Illinois…Therefore, a singular standard is probably ill conceived to be forced upon all the districts. It is up to us as your representatives, as the local representatives, to make the best possible decisions on those tough issues for our kids.”

Palacios said that a parent has the right to decide how they raise their children, and that the role of schools is to concentrate on education and academics.

Van Hiel agreed.

“The parent has the final say,” she said during the forum. “The parents need to be involved in what curriculum is being taught. When it comes to discipline and safety, there is enough that our kids have probably witnessed on TV that’s happened externally, but I think what’s equally as important is that we have a clear, concise discipline policy in place. So not only are those kids being educated with a solid curriculum, but they can also feel safe in their space and can trust those who we trust them with in the course of their school day, to uphold and keep them safe during those school hours, whether that’s in the classroom or on that bus ride home.”

Kuschert said that he thinks it is “paramount” that D303 continues to use sound reasoning to determine the age appropriate nature of all materials, including in the classrooms and libraries.

“As a community unit school district, we serve a multitude of age levels, from the real little ones all the way up to soon-to-be adults,” he said. “Children are already growing up so quickly.”

Lentz agreed about the need for local control when it comes to what students are taught.

“One of the things that I’ve heard consistently in walking through the district is the concern from both parents and community members about what is being taught in schools, especially with regards to sex education and current social topics,” Lentz said. “There’s a lot of concern in the community and there has not been a lot of good open dialogue about it. I think that it’s essential that we reestablish trust within the community. Make the curriculum and course materials for the subjects available online to parents. Hold open forums and educate the community on how the age appropriate labeling and standards are determined.”

Backer said parents in the district do have access to information regarding curriculum, content and coverage, along with resources to better understand the goals of instruction.

“Mutual support and interactions between home and school help ensure a child’s engagement, learning and success,” he said. “This is the case across all subjects and topics.”

Sex education is not required in Illinois schools, and districts are allowed to choose their own curriculum if they do teach it.

Parents also can opt their children out from receiving lessons in any sex education curriculum.

The consolidated election is April 4.