More than 150 parents came out to a Tuesday night school board meeting to oppose a controversial new sexual health education curriculum that many said was “too graphic” and “not age appropriate” for their Cupertino Union School District seventh-graders.
At the March 28 meeting, the school board voted 2-2, with Phyllis Vogel and Anjali Kausar in favor, Liang Chao and Kristen Lyn against and Soma McCandless recusing herself.
More than 50 people submitted speaker cards to the school board to oppose the curriculum. Many were displeased with proposed curriculum they said details different kinds of sex. At press time, an online Change.org petition opposing the new curriculum had gathered more than 4,300 signatures.
Sri Sarma a district parent who spoke at the meeting, said she was able to view the curriculum and did not like what she saw.
“The data in it was explicit; it was extremely provocative,” she said. “It was written with too much suggestion. The entire approach was all about perform, not about inform. The entire assumption made by the (curriculum) that we reviewed was that all our children are already sexually active.”
The new curriculum is being proposed as a result of the California Healthy Youth Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015 and took effect in January last year. The legislation “require(s) school districts to ensure that all pupils in grades 7-12 … receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education,” according to the text of the law.
Previously, districts were only required to provide education on HIV prevention once in middle school and once in high school. According to the district, the current human growth and development curriculum does not meet the new requirements and therefore can no longer be used.
The California Healthy Youth Act seeks “to provide pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and from unintended pregnancy (and) provide pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage and family.”
However, many parents believe that much of the information included in the new curriculum is too much too soon, and is “neither age- nor culturally appropriate” according to the Change.org petition.
Many parents said they agree that sex education is important and necessary for middle school students, but that it should be taught in a fact-only, scientific manner, without explicit details about intercourse.
Muni Madhdhipatla, a district parent, told the board that the material should be offered in tiers for the students, so they can opt out of certain lessons while not missing out on others.
“Age appropriate, that is very important,” he said. “Is there data that supports this curriculum is needed at the seventh grade in CUSD? You need to take context into the mix. Kids mature physically and mentally at different age levels. You are bombarding them with information that they are not ready for.”
A district Human Growth and Development Task Force was created in the fall last year, and according to the district website, it consisted of four district parents, one high school student, three fifth-grade teachers, five middle school science teachers, two site administrators, one district nurse, one instructional support team member, an unpaid consultant and Leslie Mains, the district chief of family and community engagement. The task force met five times from the fall to February.
Barbara Wooley, a 20-year educator in the district and member of the task force, said students are already taught about intercourse in the current curriculum.
“You cannot teach somebody how to not contract HIV or any other STI (sexually transmitted infection) without telling them how one contracts an STI,” she told this newspaper. “You don’t get your vaccination after you’ve been exposed to a disease. We hope with every fiber of our being that our seventh-graders are not sexually active but we also know in reality, it’s going to come to a point where they need to know this information.”
According to the district’s “frequently asked questions” web page, the task force decided upon the curriculum published by Health Connected called “Teen Talk Middle School.” Five curricula were recommended to the district, but only two were considered by the task force. But many parents said that not enough was done to engage parents in the task force.
In addition, the district said the curriculum was available for parents to review from Feb. 15 to March 3, but many parents said they weren’t aware they could review it or it wasn’t available.
Hans Barber, director of math and science with the district, said it was important for the board to adopt the new curriculum as soon as possible to be in compliance with the law, and that the district had already received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union urging the board to adopt a compliant curriculum as soon as possible, citing litigation costing $450,000 to a Fresno school district for failure to comply with sex education law.
Jeff Bowman, chief information officer with the district, said the board’s 2-2 vote puts the district in a tight spot.
“We always try to do everything we can to be in compliance with the law,” he told this newspaper. “Unfortunately, now we’re vulnerable to not being in compliance.”
The next steps in the process are not entirely clear. If the curriculum had been approved, teacher training would have begun in early April.
“We’re not going to be able to do anything else this school year,” he said. “There’s not enough time in the school year to put another task force together to go through the process of looking at that curriculum and vetting that curriculum, getting teachers trained, having parent education nights and giving them time to opt out. The earliest we could even start talking task force is fall next year. We do need to wait for some direction from the board now, too.”
He said the earliest the board could discuss the item again is in May.
Consideration of curriculum for other grade levels 5, 6 and 8 is to be determined in future years, according to the district.
McCandless said she recused herself because she has a friend who works for the company who produced the proposed curriculum.