Proposed changes to sexual education cause dissent

Patricia Wei

At a Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) board meeting on March 28, the CUSD Board voted on the adoption of a new sexual education health curriculum, Health Connected: Teen Talk Middle School. With a tie of 2-2, the curriculum was not passed.

The creation of a new sexual education curriculum is a response to Assembly Bill 239, also known as the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA). This bill was signed by governor Jerry Brown in Jan. 2016 and ensures that schools must cover sexual harassment, sexual assault, adolescent relationship abuse, intimate partner violence and sex trafficking in their human growth and development (HG&D) curriculums. The CHYA also prevents schools from teaching only abstinence-based sex education. Previously, schools have only been required to cover HIV prevention.

“Numerous studies show that young people who have received comprehensive sex education start sexually intimate relationship later than those who haven’t received sex ed, or than those who have received ‘abstinence-only’ programs,” said Heidi Winig, director of Bay Area Communities for Health Education. “And when they do start having sex, they are more likely to use contraception and protection. Many studies also show increased knowledge and skills about how to talk to their parents about sexuality and relationships.”

Since the current CUSD curriculum does not comply with the standards of Assembly Bill 239, the HG&D Task Force, consisting of parents, teachers, administrators, nurses, a student, the CUSD Instructional Coach and the CUSD Chief of Family Engagement, was created in the spring of 2016 to develop a new curriculum for seventh grade sex education. Interested parents were also encouraged to join in June 2016.

This task force advised the CUSD board to implement Health Connected: Teen Talk Middle School.

“Our goal was to be in compliance with the California law and find the best way we thought the content could be delivered,” said Taruna Khanna, a parent on the HG&D Task Force. “We looked at a variety of curriculum and chose Health Connected because it is project-based and allows students to express themselves and have conversations about society and humanity.”

Included within its suggested curriculum, Health Connected uses methods such as role playing, workshops and discussions to make sexual education engaging for students.

“Our curricula is purposefully adaptable so teachers can tailor instruction to best meet the unique needs of our state’s diverse communities, students, and classrooms while meeting the requirements of CHYA,” said Jennifer Rogers, communications manager and health educator at Health Connected. “Our experience has taught us that not one district, classroom, or student is the same.”

At the board meeting on March 28, parents voiced concerns about the curriculum, its selection process and their level of involvement. Some were concerned that the procedure of adopting a new sexual education curriculum was not transparent enough for parents uninvolved in the Task Force.

“Parents welcome law-compliant, age appropriate, culturally sensitive sex education,” said Sue Tan*, a Miller parent. “Comprehensive sex education protects every child in our community from sexually transmitted disease. However, CUSD did a poor job in engaging parents, which is upsetting.”

Some parents, however, found some of the content in Health Connected’s curriculum inappropriate. A petition was created and included an excerpt from the curriculum’s appendix in which kids were asked to brainstorm different ways of having sex.

“Students should not be brainstorming how to have sex,” said a Shalini Kaushik, a Miller parent. “They should be brainstorming ideas, ways to improve the world and the community. Sex is such a natural thing that they will eventually come to know about.”

Because the Health Connected: Teen Talk Middle School curriculum was not passed, students in CUSD will not be learning sexual education this year.

 

 

 

*Name changed for privacy