Controversial Assignment Opens Door for Right-Wing Takeover on 4J School Board
On March 10, the 4J School District made national news after a photo of a controversial make-up assignment was shared via social media. The post, made by a 4J parent, was quickly spread by many sources, including notorious far-right anti-LGBTQIA+ instigator Chaya Raichik, a.k.a. Libs of TikTok, before being picked up by local news outlets.
The photo highlighted an assignment that was given to students who missed the Health 2 class and it asked students to write a short creative story based on a “sexual fantasy.” The assignment read:
“For those students who were absent, you will write a short story of a paragraph or two. This story is a sexual fantasy that will have NO penetration of any kind or oral sex (no way of passing an STI). You will choose 3 items (romantic music, candles, massage oil, feather, feather boa, flavored syrup, etc.) to use in your story. Your story should show that you can show and receive loving physical attention without having sex.”
According to local news outlets, a parent of a Churchill High School student saw the assignment and posted a screenshot of it to Facebook. From there, parents concerned over the inappropriate content began making mass complaints to both the school and the district.
As a result of the mass reporting, the school took quick and decisive action. The school’s principal immediately released a statement:
“I am certain you are aware of concerns that have been raised around a health 2 – human sexuality, class assignment. Our administration is working with the district office to review the 2016 adopted secondary health curriculum – OWL: Our Whole Lives to determine the full context of the assignment.
At this time, the assignment has been removed from the class syllabus and will not be a part of students’ grades. The OWL curriculum is utilized by many districts across the state and is endorsed by the Oregon Department of Education.
Families are provided the course syllabus at the start of each term with an option to opt their student out of some or all of the coursework. As always, we welcome the review of curriculum and discussions with our families.
Moving forward, we are working with our curriculum team to assess current health curriculum units and make adjustments as needed.
Additionally, the district has begun the process of reviewing and selecting a new health curriculum to replace the OWL content that will be completed by the end of the school year.”
The district published a similar statement to their website, reiterating that the assignment stemmed from the OWL curriculum and that it had been removed from the syllabus. Doing so, they reminded parents about the option to opt out of assignments or courses completely.
A Mission To Remove Comprehensive Sexuality Education, “Grooming,” and “Wokeness” from Schools
In recent years, extra attention has been focused on schools across the country that have tried to adopt more comprehensive sexuality education curriculums. Here in Oregon, one group—Parents Rights in Education—has been asking their followers to “opt out” of courses or classwork that doesn’t align with their conservative Christian views. This curriculum, they claim, is part of “the woke” leftist agenda to indoctrinate children through critical race theory, social emotional learning, and comprehensive sexuality education.
Parent’s Rights in Education believes that the automatic opt-in is part of the problem, stating that the automatic option should be opt-out and participation in any school event, assembly, or class would then only occur at the parents’ discretion.
“Opt-Out puts parents on the defense. Often, even with a request on file, students are exposed to assemblies, outside speakers, and curriculum from which their parents have requested an exemption. The default has to be OPT-OUT, giving parents choice and peace of mind knowing their children will not be exposed to medically inaccurate, unhealthy and age inappropriate teaching without their knowledge or consent.”
The organization further claims that “opt-in” would reduce the risk of lawsuits against the schools and districts if children are accidentally exposed to content without a parent’s consent.
Still, other organizations and groups are encouraging parents to get more involved in their childrens’ education and to find out what’s being taught in schools. These groups are certain they will find evidence of CRT or “ LGBTQIA indoctrination” and “grooming” being taught in schools and aim to expose this perceived leftist corruption.
Where Did The Assignment Come From?
Due to the way this story was first reported and how quickly it went viral through Libs of TikTok, Double Sided Media reached out to OWL requesting copies of the current curriculum offered for students between tenth and twelfth grades to see where this writing prompt appears and received the following response:
“The assignment in question was an unauthorized, out-of-context adaptation of a facilitated group activity in Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Grades 10-12, 1st ed. which is out of print.”
OWL Program Manager Dr. Melanie Davis said that the second edition should be published later this year and that they do not provide copies.
Due to the conflicting statements produced by the district and the program manager, DSM requested, and was granted, a review of the curriculum at the district office.
Beginning the text is a parent orientation and permission slip for their child’s participation. Notably, the text prefaces that, if the program was being offered in a “religious setting,” it was, likely, approved by leadership and parents would normally be supportive. However—with an excellent sense for foreshadowing—the text explicitly says that, if the program is being offered “at a secular site where controversies have raged, you can expect another one now.”
The controversial assignment does stem from the curriculum. However, as originally described in the text, the assignment is meant to be done as an interactive group activity with parents first, during orientation, and then with students in class.
According to the text, the group setting provides a “measure of anonymity,” while also encouraging “participation and creativity.” The goal of the assignment is to explore different ways to express sexuality and have sexual needs met in ways that do not actually involve penetration.
These types of safe sexual activities reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and can help decrease the number of teenage pregnancies. These practices are just a small sample of the goals of the curriculum that aims to teach people—of all ages—how to engage in healthy sexual relationships.
The curriculum is scientifically fact-based and covers topics that were designed to be age appropriate. It includes sections ranging from correctly identifying binary male and female body parts, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and infections. The curriculum also includes additional information on local resources and hotlines, to parenting, communication, and consent.
The curricula’s intention is to help “participants to clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.” Not only that, but it is inclusive of the spectrum of gender identities. There are also sections relating to the development of non-binary individuals, stories of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents and a section on the gay pride parade.
The OWL curriculum was adopted in 2016 by then superintendent Gustavo Balderas—with board oversight—and has since been used by the district without much controversy. When first adopted, the district received negative feedback from parents mainly concerned about public schools using religious-based curricula.
OWL was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and by the United Church of Christ using various resources including information from the Center for Disease Control; Planned Parenthood; The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
For some, this new curriculum is a shocking contrast from previous public school sexuality education, especially when compared to abstinence-only curricula. This abstinence-only curriculum, according to Eugene Weekly, was still taught in 4J as a supplemental presentation by Dove Medical as recently as 2019. At that time, parents had petitioned to get the district to stop providing the religiously-based “sexual risk avoidance education” that was taught then.
On Wednesday, both parents and upset students filled the school board’s regular meeting to express their disgust with the handling of the current assignment controversy. Many voiced their concerns about the teacher and the curriculum — ultimately wanting both to be removed from the 4J district.
One CHS student told the board that students had voiced their concerns about the teacher, Kirk Miller, not just ones from the particular health class at the center of the controversy, and that they believe the school is actively trying to keep it quiet. The student said:
“We decided to bring this up in the Feminist Student Union last Friday. People have mentioned this is a sexual abuse and a sexual harassment issue. It is a feminist issue and we brought it up and what happened is that adults in the bathroom swarmed around all of us and told us that we had to shut it down.”
It’s not clear why Miller chose to adapt and use this specific assignment in this way. Director of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations for 4J Jenna McCulley said that Miller has been the football coach at CHS for just one season, that he began teaching there this last fall, and noted that he doesn’t normally teach the health course but was filling in for someone on leave.
McCulley also said that, to her knowledge, the district has had no other complaints about the curriculum or the previous instructor. Furthermore, she said that there is no evidence that other teachers in the district have used this specific assignment either.
Weaponizing the Controversy
On March 17, Rick Dancer—the conservative former Springfield resident and GOP Secretary of State candidate turned Montanan—published one of six editions of his YouTube show “Get Real with Rick Dancer ” about the assignment controversy, this one featuring two 4J district parents and local dentist Dr. Michael Bratland.
The two parents—Justin McCall and a woman named Beth—spoke about their experiences at the district meeting, which Beth had briefly live-streamed with Dancer the night before.
During the video, both parents expressed their disgust with the assignment and McCall admitted that he had attempted to file charges with the Eugene Police Department that morning against the teacher for what he described as “verbal sexual abuse.” With no existing law having been broken, he said the police told him that they would not pursue it.
DSM spoke to EPD’s Public Information Director Melinda McLaughlin who said that there was no report filed against Miller.
“If somebody was called to respond to [a] report of something, and it ended up not meeting any elements of a crime, then most often there is not a report,” McLaughlin said. “They don’t typically write a report if they’re not taking enforceable action or continuing to investigate.”
In response to a question by Dancer, McCall said that he had begun the paperwork to file petitions for the recall of “every-single” standing board member as they had ignored his ultimatum of immediately firing the teacher. This gave Dancer the perfect lead-in to allow Dr. Bratland to announce his candidacy for a soon-to-be-open school board seat during an interview later in the video.
Not only did Dr. Bratland, the owner of Crisdental, announce that he had filed for school board candidacy but Dancer mentioned earlier in the show that Dr. Bratland had told him of two others that planned to file.
“What I want to bring back to the board is professionalism,” Dr. Bratland said while describing how, during the meeting, board members were seemingly snickering at each other and muttering under their breaths.
Dr. Bratland also told Dancer that he wants to bring back school resource officers to 4J schools –- and he did so with a not-so-veiled reference to current board member Laural O’ Rourke who is a Black woman.
“It’s funny how one of the board members, I won’t pick on her, but she is afraid of going to the board, going there on board night, because of security,” he said . “But on the same token, these people have not brought back, they’re the ones that got rid of these resource officers and now they haven’t brought [them] back.”
In reality, when O’ Rourke did cite security concerns about board meetings, she did so after being personally targeted during a meeting by pro-gun community members after their outbursts forced then-Chair Judy Newman to call a recess. Furthermore, the board voted to remove SRO’s in June 2020 and did so after speaking with students, parents, and school faculty. It is worth noting that the sole nay vote was by Jim Torrey, the city’s Republican mayor from 1997 to 2004 during what was arguably a time of increased police violence towards the community.
When Dancer asked about the difference between education and indoctrination, Mr. Bratland said it was “dumbfounding” how often phrases such as “DEI, adversity, equity, racism” were used and said “this is not working for us.” Instead, he believes that “kids are not happy,” citing the district’s suicide and graduation rates.
When talking about the upcoming board election, Dr. Bratland told Dancer that, in the past, “I’d look at the ballot and I wouldn’t know who to vote for” and added that he was “tired of wokeness.” So, instead, Dr. Bratland said that, if in the Eugene-area, “you’ll be getting mail from me or from another organization” that will be a ”‘slate card’ of who you can vote for to make a change.”
Wanting to gain a majority on the seven-seat board, he noted—before professing his love for Betsy Johnson—that “we’re hoping to change all four seats to more conservative values, not right-wing radicals, we want to be reasonable.”
For many, this will have come off as an interesting comment considering that the pair—Dancer and Dr. Bratland—make up two-thirds of a controversial “We Back Our Blue Too” billboard that has been over I-105 in Springfield starting in the summer of 2021. Despite claims of being “reasonable,” it should be noted that the Blue Lives Matter flag depicted on the billboard has been tied to white supremacy, was waved during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and was even directly used to attack law enforcement officers.
The morning the episode was posted, We The People of Lane County Oregon Unite, ”a conservative community page” on Facebook, posted a photograph of 4J board candidate filings with four names—Rick Hamilton, Grant Johnson, Timothy Sean Sutherland, and Dr. Bratland—highlighted as part of the aforementioned “conservative slate.”
But while Dr. Bratland claimed that they are not seeking right-wing radicals, the Facebook group has, just this year, posted COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and the debunked “2,000 mules” conspiracy regarding the 2020 election.
And the candidates among “conservative slate” posted in the group have previously stated their more extreme right-wing bona fides. Timothy Sean Sutherland, who previously ran for the House District 13 seat against incumbent Nancy Nathanson, supports banning transgender women from school sports and prohibiting abortion in Oregon. He reiterated his beliefs during an interview with—you guessed it—Rick Dancer.
And another candidate, Grant Johnson, has shared videos claiming to show a mass “geoengineering campaign” to control the weather on his Facebook page, as well as videos from right-wing bigot Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire.
The homepage for Johnson’s campaign website also features a logo lifted straight from the Trump-Pence presidential campaign.
The special election for the 4J school board will be held on May 16, 2023. Nine candidates have announced their candidacy. Whether or not conservatives can leverage this controversy into a win gaining majority control over the 4J school board will be up to voters this May.
As of now, the assignment has been removed and Miller, the teacher, was placed on paid leave. A third party will investigate the matter further. As far as the curriculum is concerned, the district plans to review the sexuality health education and plans to adopt a new program later this year.