(The Sentinel) — A “health” textbook describing everything from anal sex to “rational suicide” and presenting ideas such as the “gender spectrum” as fact was heavily questioned at the Oct. 23 meeting of the Spring Hill USD 230 Board of Education near Kansas City.
The book, An Invitation to Health by Lisa Tunks, has already been pulled from the school, after the meeting exposed what looks like a classic coverup by the district.
Purchased without the board’s knowledge or consent, the book was being used in freshman health classes where the average age is 14.
Emails show attempted coverup
An email exchange obtained by the Sentinel shows the serious concerns one board member had after a parent came to her with complaints.
According to the emails, the controversy began in August when a parent emailed and called Spring Hill Board Member-at-Large Ali Seeling about the book, which their 14-year-old freshman daughter had discussed with them. Seeling was told the student did not have a copy of the book to bring home.
“Immediately I asked for confirmation from the district that we had a new health book and curriculum,” the email, which Seeling asked to be provided to all board members in the agenda packet. “The answer given was that the KSBOE changed the graduation requirements to a full year of health class. Previously, SHHS health was combined with PE. Now, it is 5 days a week, 5 hours per week.”
While this is true, the Kansas Department of Education only requires districts to have the class; it does not require a specific curriculum or textbook — that is left to the district.
Moreover, according to Seeling, the district attempted to justify the decision to use a textbook that had not been approved by the board by saying the purchase was under the $20,000 ceiling that requires board approval.
“Before the meeting with the parent and the district, I was informed that the district didn’t seek board approval for the new textbook because they only ordered enough copies to keep books in the classroom available to the students (read: the book would never go home with students),” Seeling wrote. “The smaller number of books was enough for each student to use in class but did not exceed $20k to initiate board approval.”
However, that limit is on financial matters, not curricula and textbooks, which are within the board’s purview regardless of price.
Seeling attended the meeting between the parent and Spring Hill Superintendent of Schools Dr. Link Luttrell on Sept. 25, along with fellow board member Nicole Melius. Seeling said she asked Melius to join her at the meeting because Melius has two years left in office, and Seeling is nearing the end of her term.
Seeling said the parent sent her pictures from the book, which includes topics such as, but not limited to:
- Anal stimulation
- The cycle of an orgasm
- Masturbation — asking the student, “How do you compare with the statistics?”
- Celibacy vs abstinence — asking the student, “What do you think are good reasons for abstaining from sex?”
- Heterosexual compared to bisexual and homosexual; as an example, the book states, “lesbian and bisexual females drink more than heterosexual females”
- Explanation of bisexuality vs pansexuality
- Rational and assisted suicide
- Vaccinations — asking students, “Have you received all the recommended vaccinations?”
- Creating a sexually healthy relationship — with the question to students, “If you are in a sexual relationship, does it have these 5 characteristics?”
- The gender spectrum: defining how gender is no longer limited to two
- Definitions and discussion of transgender, cisgender, etc.
- A section on what “friends with benefits” means
- Defining “hooking up”
“The parent requested a copy of the book, Seeling wrote. “I asked in the meeting for the parent to have the opportunity to take it home for review after some hesitation from the district.
“After the parent left the meeting, I was informed we had ‘blindsided’ the district by showing up with the parent at this meeting. My response was, ‘As a BOE member, I was ‘blindsided’ by a new textbook that was not approved by the BOE by policy.’”
The following day, Luttrell had the book pulled, but not before it had been used — unbeknownst to the board — for six weeks.
Administration fails to inform the board of the issues for four weeks after book pulled
Seeling writes that roughly two weeks after the book had been pulled from classes, there was a board meeting — on Oct. 9 — where the administration failed to bring the matter to the board’s attention, apparently hoping the issue would quietly go away. While the board had been notified of the book’s removal from the classroom, they had not apparently been apprised of the content.
On Oct. 12, Seeling reached out to district administration to have the book explicitly put on the agenda. On Oct. 16, Spring Hill Board President Doug Updike returned Seeling’s email asking, “What is the specific outcome/intent you are looking for by adding this as an agenda item? Please let me know.”
Seeling responded the “intent” was transparency, but then on Oct. 22 she found that the item had not been included and fired off another email noting that parents and other elected officials were taking notice.
“Multiple parents in the district are aware and asking us, those we represent, how we are rectifying this,” Seeling wrote. “The same parents have reached out to other elected officials who have contacted city council members, the mayors, county commissioners, state board members, state representatives, U.S. senators. I’ve done all I can to request transparency and responded to those asking that I have placed a request to fully discuss publicly.”
At the Oct. 23 meeting, Seeling made clear that she would not vote to approve the agenda if the matter was not going to be discussed, and after assurances it would be, voted to approve the agenda.
The Sentinel has filed a Kansas Open Records Act request for additional emails between staff and to the board concerning the book.
Spring Hill superintendent takes responsibility for the purchase
At the meeting, Luttrell took responsibility for the textbook fiasco.
“This particular instance here I made a big misstep,” Luttrell said. “Back in July, we did a purchase of a health text at the high school that, again, I did not bring it to you all for formal approval.”
Luttrell stressed that the policy is that any textbook that is “serving as the main resource for a course shall come before the board.”
“That did not happen, and that’s on me,” he said.
However, what was not addressed in the meeting was the reason for the shifting explanations behind the use of the book and why, nearly a month after the books were pulled from classes, parents were not informed about the controversial book or its removal.
When asked why there were only enough books for classroom use by the two teachers who instruct health, Dr. Erin Smith, Spring Hill’s director of teaching and learning, said it was because only certain parts of the book were being assigned in class.
“It certainly isn’t to hide any material from families,” Smith, who previously worked in curriculum at the Shawnee Mission district, said. “It’s just simply that they would only be using that during class for specific activities.”
Smith noted that all coursework is in class, and there is no homework assigned. However, that explanation means that parents, as a general rule, would be unlikely to find out about objectionable material in any case.