MMSD adds consent education to 4K-5th grade curriculum

The Madison Metropolitan School District is updating its curriculum and adding consent to the student learning outcomes for 4K through fifth grade.

After allegations of sexual assault were made at Madison East and LaFollette High Schools earlier this year, district staff began to look into how they’re teaching consent, realizing it shouldn’t just be taught in high school.

“As we start to talk about what it looks like in younger grades, that has actually existed and we’ve been doing it for forever. It’s just we’ve never actually named it ‘consent,'” said Jennifer Herdina, MMSD’s Welcoming Schools lead.

According to the 2019-2020 District Policy Guide, 4K students will be learning to “demonstrate respect for others’ personal space” and first-graders will be taught to “understand the need to ask permission before touching someone else’s body (consent).”

By third grade, they should be able to “define consent and identify examples of assertive communication.”

After high school sexual assault allegations @MMSDschools added consent to the learning outcomes for 4K-5th graders.

Respecting personal bubbles… asking for permission to hug someone… speaking up – these are examples of how kids are already being taught consent. #news3now

— Amanda Quintana (@AmandaQTV) November 5, 2019

As students mature, the conversation about consent will, too.

“We’re thinking long term about how we’re setting up our students with the skills and tools that they need to be healthy and safe individuals in all different types of relationships,” said Herdina.

She said the lessons will not just be about what consent is, but about practicing it. Students will learn to speak up and know who to go to if they feel unsafe, and not only listen to, but understand others’ verbal and nonverbal responses.

Missy Mael, senior director of education at the Rape Crisis Center, said consent does not always look the way people think it looks. She said that, oftentimes, people don’t give a firm, verbal “no.”

“Sometimes it’s, ‘That’s OK’ in a mousey little voice. That’s actually a ‘no’ and sometimes that’s hard for people to understand,” said Mael.

She said teaching consent education at a young age can have an effect of students’ romantic relationships later in life and “really prevent a lot of the sexual violence we’re seeing in the middle schools and high schools.”

“If they understand their own boundaries, they can tell their partner, ‘I’m not OK with this.’ And if their partner says to them, ‘This isn’t something I want to do,’ they’re more likely to respect that,” said Mael.

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