Parents fight California sex ed lessons

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: sex ed in California.

And just a warning before we go any further. This story probably isn’t suitable for younger listeners. So if you have some with you now, you might want to hit pause and come back later.

NICK EICHER, HOST: The California Healthy Youth Act went into effect in 2016. Its overarching mission: To educate youth about their sexual and reproductive health, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases. But it aims to accomplish far more than that. Some say the law attempts to sexualize children as young as 5.

REICHARD: Hundreds of parents gathered to protest outside Sacramento’s capitol building in March. Lawmakers listened to some of their requests. Still, even the bill’s revised form violates values many California parents teach their children. And schools must comply with the new law starting this month.

WORLD Radio’s Jill Nelson explains why so many parents are worried.

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: Debbie Stapley keeps busy with her six kids and 12 grandkids. Her youngest child and five of her grandkids attend nearby public schools. When she found out her district was going to use the recently approved Teen Talk for its sex education program, she contacted other families. Eventually they co-founded a group called United Parents to advocate for changes.

Stapley is Mormon and says most of the people she knows have no problem with a sex ed program that teaches how babies are made. But Teen Talk does more than that.

STAPLEY: When you start deciding what values to teach my children, that’s when I get a little uneasy.

The California Healthy Youth Act requires school districts to teach sex ed once in middle school and once in high school. Teen Talk is the only pre-approved curriculum that meets the law’s new standards for gender identity and sexual health.

It promotes the following value assumptions: most youth will have sex and there are many ways to do that. Gender is fluid, and abortion is a viable alternative to pregnancy. It emphasizes that teens do not need parental consent for an abortion in California.

Kevin Snider is chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit law firm representing hundreds of Californians concerned about their parental rights.

He says many parents don’t know districts don’t have to adopt Teen Talk.

SNIDER: One of the main forms of deception is the school districts are presented a curriculum and saying you’ve got to adopt this curriculum. And in fact the statute that was passed in Sacramento doesn’t specify.

Stapley’s school district, Capistrano Unified, agreed to table Teen Talk after dozens of parents protested. The district created a 20-person task force to provide feedback for a new curriculum. Stapley joined the team. The result?

STAPLEY: I don’t feel like what we had to say mattered as much as I had hoped it would have mattered. 

The district agreed to remove some of Teen Talk’s content and added a section about the dangers of pornography. They cut the section on gender fluidity in half. But it still fails to promote the merits of teens delaying sex. And it includes a section about “three types of sex.”

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood both participated in the creation of Teen Talk. Kevin Snider says the organizations have pressured districts to adopt their curriculum.

And many parents have no idea what the new lessons include. Stapley says the one-hour sex ed preview provided for parents often avoids the controversial sections. And Snider says both secular and Christian media have failed to articulate the most offensive elements. That makes critics sound like they’re making a fuss over nothing.

SNIDER: It comes across that these are just prudish parents out there who don’t want their kids taught about sex, which is just preposterous. 

But here’s the challenge: Some of Sacramento’s suggested resources are R-rated, which makes it hard to publicize. One book eventually dropped from the framework after parent protests introduced teens to concepts many adults aren’t familiar with.

Snider says he gets several complaints each week from all over the state, not just outlier districts. And parents aren’t the only ones complaining.

SNIDER: The other issue that is interesting is we get contacted from certain school districts where the administrators or board members are appalled by the materials and wanting to know, are their hands tied? 

And even in districts like Stapley’s that have removed much of the offensive content, the underlying values about gender and sexual activity are troubling to many.

STAPLEY: Would I want my kids to participate? No I don’t. I don’t  want my kids to participate. I don’t want my grandkids to participate. 

But under the new law, California parents cannot opt their kids out of classroom lessons or assemblies addressing LGBTQ issues. And those are now approved for children as young as kindergarten. But Snider says parents can opt out of all sex-ed instruction.

SNIDER: But there’s no question a great many parents are not on board with this. They are pulling their kids and walking out in protest of schools and they’ll likely be punishing the schools financially by doing this until they get the attention of the lawmakers in Sacramento.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Jill Nelson reporting from Orange County, California.

(Photo/Associated Press, Rich Pedroncelli) A child stands with her mother at a rally in Sacramento, Calif., last week protesting changes to sex education guidelines in schools. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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