The Topsham-area school board on Thursday approved a curriculum for young students concerning sexual violence. Some parents, however, are questioning whether the books included in the program are appropriate.
The Pre-kindergarten through grade 5 curriculum approved for Maine School Administrative District 75 comes from Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine, which supports and advocates for people affected by sexual violence.
MSAD 75 serves Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Harpswell
The curriculum will include three children’s books chosen by the nonprofit: “Uncle Willy’s Tickles,” by Marcie Aboff; “The Bare Naked Book,” by Kathy Stinson; and “Bodies are Cool,” by Tyler Feder.
As reviewed on goodreads.com “Uncle Willy’s Tickles,” teaches children about boundaries and the right to say, “No” to any unwanted touching. “The Bare Naked Book,” shows readers that all bodies are different and reflects an understanding of gender inclusion and “Bodies Are Cool” highlights various skin tones, body shapes and hair types.
Before the school board approved the curriculum, parents who attended the meeting shared their concerns about the books chosen for the sexual assault program.
One parent said “The Bare Naked Book” needed further review by the school board, stating: “There are families running around naked with their children.”
Bowdoinham parent Craig Caffrey agreed.
“I too have to wonder what this book has to do with sexual assault,” said Caffrey. “If you’re going to focus on sexual assault, you have to focus on that. You can’t give a wide range of materials.”
According to the introductory note to the book by author Kathy Stinson: “The original publication of The Bare Naked Book in 1986 caused quite a stir. It was considered pretty daring at the time to show naked bodies and talk about them frankly in a children’s book! But we knew it was important for children to see different bodies being celebrated and to learn about their own.”
On Thursday, MSAD 75 Assistant Superintendent Amanda Hersey spoke to concerns voiced by board members and school parents.
“We appreciate the partnership with all of our community. We care about the kids and we want that partnership as we go through this process. We know this is a very sobering and sensitive topic to talk about,” said Hersey.
The approved program contains 12 lessons for students K – 5 and each grade will receive two new lessons per school year. The 40-minute lessons are designed to provide safety information, encourage youth to reach out to trusted adults, and promote healthy attitudes and skills to help prevent sexual violence.
Lessons for students in kindergarten through second grade include: “Personal Bubbles,” “Understanding Our Bodies,” “Asking for Help,” Sharing Space” and “Respecting a No.” Lessons for students in grades three through five include: “Personal Boundaries,” “Consent,” “Body Language,” “Relationships,” “Pranks” and “Online Boundaries,” according to the Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine website.
MSAD 75 staff said the pre-kindergarten curriculum will be the least complex.
Pre-kindergarten students will be taught about the concept of a “Personal Bubble” to teach them about boundaries.