Terry McLaughlin: What’s your school teaching kids about sex?
In January 2016, California updated statutes regarding comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education in public schools with AB 329. Among the co-sponsors of this bill, helping to write both the legislation and the curriculum, are the ACLU of California and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
AB 329 describes what must be taught and the California State Department of Education develops how it will be taught. Do you know how your child’s school district is planning to comply with AB 329?
Collaboration with textbook publishers on the health framework approved by the Department of Education on May 9 will begin this fall. The new health books and curricula will be introduced in our public schools over the next few years. While the majority of the topics included in the framework are entirely appropriate, such as nutrition, exercise, bicycle safety, bullying, and basic reproductive health instruction, some of the materials are shockingly inappropriate for young children and pre-adolescents.
Information gleaned from a brief internet search describes a relatively benign and reasonable curriculum geared toward encouraging positive attitudes toward adolescent growth, body image, healthy relationships, avoiding sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, and dispelling gender stereotypes. But further searching reveals some of the resources which have been approved by the State of California, including “Positive Prevention Plus” and several “Sexual Health Tool Kits.”
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While these resources are not required to be used by any district, they have been approved for use by the State Board of Education. The graphic and explicit language and images approved for elementary grades, dealing with both hetero and homosexual practices, and the normalization of what many adults would consider extreme sexual activity is stunning — examples of most of which could not be printed in this newspaper.
While California law does not include a list of sex acts that must be taught to students, it does describe broadly and in detail sexual activity that must be included under instruction for disease avoidance.
At the risk of crossing the line for public consumption, you should be aware that portions of this approved curriculum instructs teachers that they may or should teach students about mutual masturbation, the use of sexual lubricants, oral sex, dental dams, anal sex, and more — otherwise they would not be fully discussing the use and effectiveness of disease prevention methods. Instruction to seventh and eighth graders can include oral and anal sex as methods of preventing pregnancy, and the curriculum includes introduction of graphically described sex toys to teens grades 9 to 12.
Is it now the responsibility of the state or school districts to provide a “how to” book of sexual instructions to pre-adolescents who are not developmentally or emotionally equipped to process this information maturely?
School districts must allow parents to remove their child from this instruction if they so choose, using a passive consent, or “opt-out” process in which parents must request in writing that their student be excused. The law states that “Schools may not require active consent” (opt-in), which would require students return a signed permission slip in order to receive instruction.
School districts can choose to require active consent, but most districts are interpreting “may not” to mean they are forbidden to do so, fearing threatened lawsuits from organizations such as the ACLU. This is not true, and parents can pressure their district to require an affirmative “opt-in.” However, the law states that opt-out “does not apply” to instruction that discusses gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation — and if your district chooses to implement this curriculum in the elementary grades, that instruction could begin as early as kindergarten.
Under almost any other circumstances, were we to expose young children to some of these graphic images and concepts, it would be considered child abuse. The Citizens Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Obscenity states that “The standard of what is harmful to minors may differ from the standard applied to adults. Harmful materials for minors include any communication consisting of nudity, sex, or excretion that … is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors.”
Ninety percent of the Health Education Framework, which includes the California Healthy Youth Act, is intended to guide our children to healthier lifestyles, give them tools to recognize danger in public or on the internet, create a safe and more inclusive school environment for all students, protect them from bullying and harassment, and other responsible goals to which the vast majority of parents and guardians would have no objections.
To be clear — state law mandates only that comprehensive sex education be taught once in middle school and once in high school. School districts are not required to introduce these lessons in elementary school.
Do you know if a decision has been made as to what curriculum will be adopted in your child’s district and the grade levels in which instruction will take place? If not, call your child’s school.
Ask to receive copies of everything (videos, slides, website links, texting referral organizations, worksheets, handouts, PowerPoints, textbooks) they are planning to use to comply with AB 329. Ask if teachers are allowed to add materials or discussion points, beyond what you are able to preview, without your knowledge or approval.
If the school site will not provide those materials, visit the county or superintendent’s office for your district and insist upon seeing those resources.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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