SALT LAKE CITY — Maturation programs in the state need to be age appropriate and distinct from sex education, the Utah State Board of Education decided Friday, asking staff to develop guidelines to that end.
Brenda Hales, associate superintendent for instructional services, told a board committee that maturation education needs to get back to the basics. Taught in fifth and sixth grades, the instruction has historically revolved around informing students about the changes that will occur to their bodies as they go through puberty. It also delves into proper hygiene.
A former elementary principal for eight years, Hales said she's seen programs greatly benefit children, but not all instruction is created equal, she said. There are no rules or guidelines for programs in the state.
Compared to some of today's programs, "we did it in kind of a kinder, gentler way," she said.
A Planned Parenthood program that has been used during the past two school years in a small number of elementary schools was one of those programs. Hales said that in her opinion, it's too clinical and not age appropriate. Called "Growing Up Comes First," the materials depict anatomical imagery of reproductive organs and explain some of the changes both boys and girls undergo.
Some parents, activists and educators said the program is inappropriate.
"It was information overload," said Erin Perkins, who attended a maturation program at Valleyview Elementary with her fifth-grade daughter. "It was not only what my body is going to do, (it was about) what every other boy in my class is going to do. It talked about male anatomy."
Materials shown to both genders depict changes both genders experience. Gender-specific materials go into greater detail.
Dalane England with the Utah Eagle Forum said the Planned Parenthood program takes away the innocence of children and is pornographic.
"Girls do not need to know about a boys' body in the fifth and sixth grade," England said.
Matt Killpack, a psychologist in the Alpine School District, said the program delves too far into anatomy and physiology. One of the programs animated film begins by stating puberty creates an adult body capable of reproduction or having a baby.
"The fact that it's equating puberty with physical readiness to conceive and bear child is completely inappropriate for fifth and sixth graders," he said.
Some schools and districts in Utah have developed their own maturation programs, while others use materials provided by feminine hygiene companies. The Planned Parenthood film is just one option available in the state, yet it has been the only one listed as a board recommended program. The board voted to take that distinction away, though districts will still be able to use the program.
Board member Leslie Castle said the private school where she works has developed sensitive, appropriate materials. She said puberty isn't just about growing hair and sweating more, and that approach to maturation makes it seem scary for kids. Her program talks about the benefits of puberty, such as estrogen making girls' muscles stronger.
The board committee decided to put into board rules specific recommendations for local schools, and some requirements including permission slips allowing parents to have their kids opt into the instruction.
Perkins said she was pleased with the discussion, and hopes to see future maturation programs toned down.
"It's obvious they had really looked into the history of this," she said. "I loved that they had watched what we've seen."
Hales said she will work to develop new recommendations for the maturation program to make it what it should be.
"It can be done in a much warmer way," she said. "It's not supposed to be a junior sex ed program."