Parents express concern as SB Unified begins training for Teen Talk
Parent Janeth Mendoza plans on homeschooling her kids before they reach Goleta Valley Junior High School because of the new sexual education curriculum in the Santa Barbara Unified School District: Teen Talk.
The eighth-grade curriculum has attracted a frenzy of positive and negative opinions during school board meetings. It’s a piece of a statewide reaction to the 2016 establishment of the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA), a piece of the Education Code that requires districts to provide comprehensive sexual education.
One Zoom meeting even attracted more than 112 public comments because a large portion wanted to discuss Teen Talk. Many were negative comments, but the district board still unanimously adopted the curriculum.
Mrs. Mendoza, a Goleta resident, was among those expressing her opinion. When she heard about the Teen Talk curriculum in February, she started attending school board meetings for the first time.
She heard other community members’ concerns and got worried that Spanish-speaking parents didn’t know about the curriculum, either.
“I’m going to speak to as many Hispanic parents that I can, because this is not right for them to not be aware of what’s happening,” she said.
She told moms at the Santa Cruz Market and called the Hispanic radio station. She gave out her number and answered questions from parents.
Prior to the Zoom meeting in which Teen Talk was adopted by the board, she ran to friends’ houses to help them set up their phones or laptops for Zoom.
She, alongside other members, was part of an organized group to seek a different curriculum, specifically the HEART (Health Education and Relationship Training) curriculum that caters to family values.
Board member Kate Ford said, “The week before (the Teen Talk adoption), we were pretty clear that there was an organized effort to show up because we received letters.”
She likes hearing public comments, especially when they give different nuances.
“It’s not necessary for me as a board member to hear person after person say exactly the same thing. But that’s what happened with those 90 or so people,” she told the News-Press.
Repetitive statements, both positive and negative, lasted for a couple hours.
Among those in opposition is Barbara Batastini, a Santa Barbara resident involved in what she describes as a “grassroots effort” to inform the community. She sat down for a News-Press interview alongside Mrs. Mendoza.
“This is just plain wrong,” Mrs. Batastini said. “There’s enough people that can see it, so those people are rising up.”
Abi Karlin-Resnick, the executive director of Health Connected, the publisher of Teen Talk, said the controversial discussions are something she expects as districts implement the curriculum.
“There has been a pretty coordinated effort statewide to have a conversation regarding Teen Talk and other curriculums,” she told the News-Press.
She sees lots of news articles mention it and even sees groups like Informed Parents of California target the curriculum.
But she also sees the controversy as an opportunity for communities to discuss sexual health.
“Going through these debates and conversations, even if it’s uncomfortable and contentious, it’s part of the implementation process,” she said. “Maybe the community hasn’t thought about how we educate young people, and if we trust young people to make those decisions.”
When the CHYA took effect, Teen Talk was one of few curricula already compliant. Health Connected went from serving about 30 districts to 120 in less than four years.
Ms. Karlin-Resnick is currently working with Dr. Anne Roundy-Harter on the district’s communication with parents.
“One of the issues with Teen Talk is that the parents haven’t been adequately briefed on the materials in Teen Talk,” said Dr. Paul Aijian, an internal medicine doctor at Cottage Health.
“I think many, if not most, parents would not allow their children to go to that program at all,” he told the News-Press.
Parents have an opportunity to opt their children out of the class, but their access to curriculum has been minimal thus far.
The district plans to send parents a letter prior to implementation and hold an information night.
Because Teen Talk is proprietary to Health Connected, the lessons are not publicly available online. Santa Barbara Unified School District keeps a curriculum binder at the district office for parents to review by appointment.
“It would be really nice to have easier access to the curriculum if the parents want it,” said Planned Parenthood Central Coast nurse practitioner Sara Thurman. “Parents do have the right to opt out, but how do you know if you want to opt out?”
She said she is excited that comprehensive sexual education is being implemented in Santa Barbara Unified schools. She hopes it will be established by the time her kids reach middle school.
“Comprehensive curriculum is the best way to be successful in understanding and managing their bodies,” she told the News-Press.
She said she sees teenagers who don’t have proper education at the Santa Barbara clinic with infections or pregnancies.
The school board didn’t think the HEART curriculum that community members advocated for would fulfill students’ needs for information, said board member Ford.
Mrs. Batastina and Mrs. Mendoza petitioned for the district to consider HEART. They are disappointed the district didn’t hear them out.
Mrs. Mendoza said she contacted Superintendent Hilda Maldonado and was told a day before Teen Talk’s adoption that the district would hold a forum for the Spanish-speaking community.
When contacted by the News-Press, Superintendent Maldonado said she didn’t tell Mrs. Mendoza that she’d hold a forum for families. Her staff informed her that enough community outreach had occurred.
Disappointed with the district, Mrs. Batastina and Mrs. Mendoza are holding their own community forum at 10 a.m. Saturday outside the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
“We will protest, and we will keep protesting,” Mrs. Batastini said. “The Santa Barbara Unified School District is going to have a very hard year.”