Community members differ on new sex ed lessons
It’s hard to argue about children’s reading lessons in school, but what about sex education?
Parents, students, community members and a local school district board all say they want the best for students, but their idea of an adequate curriculum varies.
The California Healthy Youth Act mandates that districts teach comprehensive sex ed but lets them choose among compliant curricula.
Santa Barbara Unified chose Teen Talk, a program by a nonprofit called Health Connected. Opponents of this recommend the Health Education and Relationship Training curriculum.
Two outspoken adversaries of the board’s decision, Barbara Batastini and Janeth Mendoza, sat down with the News-Press to share their views. District officials and advocates of the curriculum gave their rationale as well.
Parents have the right to opt out of the sex ed program, so here’s why they should or shouldn’t enroll, according to people interviewed by the News-Press and comments made at school board meetings.
“I feel like now the school district is taking and putting parents on the side and trying to teach children things that my family doesn’t value,” Mrs. Mendoza, mother of SB Unified students, said. “I feel like they’re trying to take away my rights as a parent.”
She and Mrs. Batastini expressed concern that the lessons don’t align with the community’s values.
“The law is very clear that to the biggest, widest, grandest extent possible, you stay away from values because everyone obviously has different values,” board member Kate Ford said. “The CHYA is very clear to stay away from value-driven curriculum, and the HEART curriculum is very value-driven.”
She also pointed out that Teen Talk has interactive discussions for young people to approach their parents.
According to the copy of the curriculum at the district office, there’s an activity where students look at their family’s values and think about their personal view of sex.
During the Sept. 8 board meeting, Miki Hammel complained that Teen Talk promotes secular humanism and encourages premarital sex and that “it goes against the religious values of our community.”
Mrs. Batastini expressed concern for Planned Parenthood’s involvement in sex ed. She pointed out that when candidates apply for endorsement from Planned Parenthood’s Central Coast Action Fund, the application asks if candidates support comprehensive sexual education.
Abi Karlin-Resnick, the executive director of Health Connected, said Planned Parenthood didn’t have input in the Teen Talk curriculum but is listed as a resource.
“We’re aligned with Planned Parenthood in their belief that comprehensive sexuality education should be provided. But there’s really no connection beyond networking at events,” she said.
Sara Thurman, a nurse practitioner for Planned Parenthood Central Coast and mom of SB Unified students, hadn’t read the Teen Talk curriculum in depth but looked at an overview of the lessons. She is an advocate for comprehensive sexual health education.
“I think that a good comprehensive curriculum, really good education is the best way to support our students to be successful in understanding and managing their bodies and making good choices,” she said.
SB Unified students previously discussed sex ed in high school, but the CHYA brings it to middle school as well.
“Kids are coming into the clinic with infections or pregnancies, and they haven’t been properly educated,” Ms. Thurman, the nurse practitioner, said. “I think the conversations should be starting earlier with body education and body autonomy.”
Commenters during the Sept. 8 board meeting said the curriculum was too much for middle school. Mrs. Batastini said some materials are pornographic. She doesn’t like that the materials lists different forms of sexual contact, and she said scenarios presented by an activity might give students ideas.
“When I taught sex ed, the teens were really appreciative of honest, explicit information,” Ms. Ford, the school board member, said. “I would much rather give as much clear and explicit instruction as possible so that it was accurate.”
Advocates of Teen Talk said students already are exposed to information online and that some may receive inaccurate and unhealthy advice on the web.
“Children are exposed to all sorts of misinformation and pressures in person and online, to counter that they need and deserve a resource of trusted, factual information,” Cressida Silvers, mother of three, said during the board meeting.
The CHYA states: “Instruction and materials shall teach pupils about gender, gender expression, gender identity and explore the harm of negative gender stereotypes.”
Many commenters were pleased that the Teen Talk curriculum is “non-judgmental” and discusses various gender identities and ways of expression.
Others think it goes too far for middle-school-aged students.
The district keeps a copy of the curriculum for parents to view by appointment, and more parent communication is planned.