MONTPELIER — The Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools Board has rejected a call to formulate a new policy to help students better understand their sexuality and address issues around sexual assault.
The decision followed an appearance at Wednesday’s board meeting by two parents who said the school district should do more to help students navigate the difficulties around “coming of age,” questions about sexuality beyond human biology and combating sexual assault in the MeToo era.
School Board members and Montpelier High School Principal Mike McRaith were sympathetic to the issues raised but reluctant to embark on crafting a new policy that could be challenging for faculty and administrators to address.
The parents presenting were Barbarina Heyerdahl, a mother of four children — two of whom had attended MHS — and Andy Dorwart Crane, a midwife and mother who works for Planned Parenthood, although she was at the meeting as a private citizen.
“We share a passion for all things sexuality and talking to kids about sexuality,” said Heyerdahl, who also works as a community activist on a variety of issues.
Heyerdahl said she decided to raise the issue after the arrest of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, and Brett Kavanagh’s congressional hearings after the U.S. Supreme Court nominee was accused of sexual assault in his high school years. Heyerdahl said she also remembered similar hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, also accused of sexual assault. Both nominees were subsequently appointed to the bench, despite the controversies.
“What kind of a message does that send to our young men and our young girls, that what happens to a girl’s body is really not of consequence in young men’s lives and the power they may get?” Heyerdahl asked.
Through her own work, Crane said she had encountered an MHS student who asked for an intrauterine device before going to college because she was worried about being raped and getting pregnant, based on statistics of sexual assault in higher education institutions.
“So, we have that kind of student who is prepared, but, oh, my goodness, can we do something about that, in terms of our community?” Crane asked.
Crane said there was strong interest among parents in the school district and the community to have discussions about healthy sexual development. But she said there was “fear” among educators about “misstepping” in the MeToo era and losing their jobs.
Crane said a survey of students showed that they wanted “an askable adult” that could help answer questions they had about their sexuality.
“That’s why we’re here today — we would love the School Board to be supportive, maybe on a policy level,” Crane said.
Speaking after the meeting, School Board Chairman Jim Murphy said health and sex education is a part of the curriculum developed by administrators that the board is not directly involved in. Board members and administrators noted that issues around sex education were also considered under several school district policies that cover diversity, equity and inclusion; drugs and alcohol; and harassment, hazing and bullying.
“However, the board is very interested in how the important matters of sexuality, healthy relationships, substance use and other important matters are being talked about and discussed at our schools and our broader community,” Murphy said, adding that the board was committed to continuing the conversation, assessing available resources and providing assistance to help students “become healthy, whole adults.”
“This will help us assess whether we need further investments in support structures for our students around these important life issues,” Murphy said.
In other business, board member Lisa Frost announced she was resigning from the board because she is moving from Roxbury to Plymouth, New Hampshire. Murphy and other board members thanked Frost for her service. A search will begin immediately to find her replacement, Murphy said.