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Letter: Former student calls for more comprehensive health education

As a former student of Bemidji High School, I am grateful for the quality high school education I received. This appreciation has grown after completing my first year of college. The administrators, educators and staff of Independent School District 31 do a phenomenal job preparing students for life after high school. However, the system is not infallible. There is always something that can be improved. For me, the curriculum for Bemidji High School’s required health class could be augmented to provide students with a more comprehensive education.

While the class covers topics like diet and exercise rather well and addresses drugs and alcohol, education surrounding sexual health, sexual orientation and gender proved to be inadequate. Perhaps the course’s largest detriment was the focus on abstinence as the only method for young people to lead healthy lives. While this may be a great and healthy choice for some students, focusing the education solely on abstinence is problematic for several reasons. To name two: it does not provide any education for those students who are already sexually active, nor does it provide information for students who may become sexually active. A more effective sexual education could result from an unbiased presentation of abstinence as well as discussions for students who do choose to be sexually active: consent and healthy relationships; language that does not promote rape culture, sexism, homophobia or transphobia; condoms; birth control; and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

The class is heteronormative: other non-heterosexual orientations are discussed only in passing. Non-cisgender identities are not even addressed. While it may be that the majority of the students in any given health class identify as heterosexual and cisgender, all students deserve access to comprehensive sexuality and gender education. A class day discussing things like the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity will, if nothing else, result in a greater understanding, which can only promote tolerance.

My intention in writing is to encourage discussion around issues surrounding sex and sexuality education, particularly with regard to youth, in the community. To deny students access to resources that can only lead to greater understanding, safety and fulfilling relationships is an injustice. I urge parents, students and community members to reach out to school board members to arrive at a more effective and comprehensive solution.

Erik Sorensen