District has not responded to letter sent in November
By Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff
Two WBHS students have accused the West Bend School District of not acting lawfully.
Bonnie Briggs, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and Erica Gilhuber, the club’s vice-president, both signed a formal document voicing concerns regarding an advisory committee for the district’s human growth and development curriculum.
A letter dated November 15, 2014 was sent by the GSA to Jason Levash, the district’s Director of Careers, Arts, and Personal Development. The letter was signed by Briggs, Gilhuber, faculty adviser Scott Lone, and volunteer adviser Shana Schloemer.
“We didn’t get any direct response to our letter, they just kind of blanketed that they are postponing the [next] meeting,” Gilhuber said. Gilhuber feels that the concerns of the club are not being taken seriously by the district.
In the letter, the GSA lists topics that the club believes should be included in the curriculum, and also claims that the district unlawfully has not included students in the committee. Levash said that there are student members of the committee, but the students have not been able to attend the meetings thus far.
“We have students that are part of the membership, they have not been at the meetings but they have always been part of the structure,” Levash said. Levash said that the student members consist of one Badger student and two high school students.
“The first thing we always do (at the meetings) is ground ourselves in state statute,” Levash said.
When teaching human growth and development to public school students in the state of Wisconsin, State Statute Sec.118.019 requires “medically accurate information” and is defined by “information that is scientifically based and published, where appropriate, in peer-reviewed journals and textbooks.”
“The role of the advisory committee is that they are going to be taking a look and reviewing the curriculum and they are going to give guidance to the board instruction committee if they believe any modifications should be made. So they are not a policy-making committee; the [school board] actually determines whether or not they are going to accept those recommendations at that point,” said Levash.
“Students should be taught safety and moderation.”
– Erica Gilhuber, GSA vice-president
This committee was formed based on Wisconsin Act 15, Sec. 33, 118.019 in which “the school board shall appoint an ad hoc advisory committee, whose role is to advise the school board on the design and implementation of the human growth and development curriculum and to review the curriculum.” The law states that “Parents, teachers, school administrators, pupils, health care professionals, members of the clergy, and other residents of the school district shall comprise the committee.”
GSA volunteer club advisor Shana Schloemer was not selected to be a member of the committee. Schloemer is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in LGBT issues, parenting issues, and sex therapy.
“[The letter] is a piece of feedback that we are going to review, and really that is the extent of my comment as far as the letter we received, it is just another piece of information that the committee can look at,” Levash said.
“It is a public, open committee so any individual or group can provide feedback to the team, so I guess it’s not unexpected,” Levash said about the GSA’s letter. However, Levash said sending a letter versus attending a meeting or contacting him was unusual for the district.
“They basically released the letter to the media before they made any contact with us at all,” Levash said.
The GSA was first notified about the committee by Scott Lone, the faculty adviser to the club. Lone asked the club if they would be interested in becoming involved with the committee’s actions.
“We said yeah, because we are all students here, and we do have to take the health class, and it is not the best health class,” GSA vice-president Erica Gilhuber said.
The most important thing students must learn from the human growth and development curriculum is “safety, instead of just ‘don’t do anything,'” Gilhuber said. Gilhuber said teachers must realize that students are becoming adults, and simply telling them to refrain from certain activities is not effective. “Instead, students should be taught safety and moderation, even with drug and alcohol issues, not just sex,” Gilhuber said.
“The next committee meeting has been postponed, but when that meeting happens, we are going to be there with as much support as we can find,” GSA president Bonnie Briggs said.
Levash said all committee members have received a copy of the letter. The committee will reconvene in January, at which point the letter will be discussed, according to Levash.
Gilhuber recalls the difficulty the GSA had in gaining status as an official school organization. The club gained official status in 2011 after existing on its own for several years.
“We did not have rights through the school,” Gilhuber said.
Within the letter sent to Levash, past discrimination against the club is discussed. In 2010, the GSA requested that the discrimination from the district end. A federal lawsuit was filed against the district in a United States District Court. The West Bend School District is currently under the supervision of Judge Adelman until 2018 and a consent decree was signed, requiring the district to grant the requests of the GSA.
Discrimination is felt in the district, according to Gilhuber. “A lot of people like to drop slurs, there’s a homophobic vibe,” Gilhuber said.
Briggs and Gilhuber both agree that respect needs to be addressed in the curriculum. “People need to learn how to respect other’s orientations and preferences,” Gilhuber said.
“It’s not just about GSA interests, it is what I think the student body as a whole would appreciate,” Gilhuber said about the list of topics the GSA wants included in the curriculum.