News

School board to discuss sex education curriculum

Program implemented after California Healthy Youth Act

The Palo Alto school board will discuss Tuesday night a new sex education curriculum that has drawn both intense opposition and strong support in the community.

A group of parents have protested the new curriculum, taught by Redwood City nonprofit Health Connected, primarily for being inappropriate content for seventh graders. They have also criticized the district's process for selecting the program as hasty and unrepresentative of parents, and have called for a more thorough vetting process akin to the one required for adoption of a full curriculum such as mathematics.

The school district added the seventh-grade Health Connected curriculum after a state law was updated with more comprehensive requirements around sex education for public schools and took effect last January. The California Healthy Youth Act requires districts to educate students about sexual health and HIV prevention at least once in middle school and once in high school. Previously, districts were only mandated to provide HIV-prevention education in middle and high school, though middle school science teachers in Palo Alto Unified gave said they have long taught their own sexual-health curriculum.

Other parents have turned out to school board meetings in recent months to voice their support for what they argue is much-needed and age-appropriate education about safe sex, gender identity, consent and other topics.

Staff is not recommending that the district replace Health Connected, but rather to ensure greater communication and transparency around the curriculum. The district should develop "specific, detailed, informational" presentations on Health Connected for parents and teachers, provide parents with full access to the curriculum materials before they are taught to students and make "clear" opt-out information available in multiple languages to parents, according to a staff report written by Superintendent Max McGee. The district is also adding information about the California Healthy Youth Act to its website.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Join

The district has said staff considered Health Connected, taught over the course of 10 hours to seventh-graders, as a supplementary rather than primary curriculum that would not require a full adoption process.

An American Civil Liberties Union of California memo on the California Healthy Youth Act notes that parents must be notified of any planned sexual health instruction, provided the opportunity to review the materials and given the option to opt their child out of the instruction.

"Parents do not have the right," however, "to dictate what curriculum is used for sexual health education or what information is provided to students in public schools. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled that parents do not have any constitutional right 'to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so,'" the ACLU memo reads.

Staff are also recommending that teachers be trained in Health Connected materials, with the goal that they eventually become the primary educators delivering the curriculum. Currently, trained sexual health educators employed by the nonprofit teach the curriculum, with students' regular teachers present in the classroom.

Palo Alto and Gunn high schools have been using Health Connected lessons in their Living Skills classes since 2006. This year, the district also asked the nonprofit to teach its "Puberty Talk" lesson to Palo Alto Unified fifth-graders "to provide greater continuity and alignment with the middle school curricula," McGee wrote in his report.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

In response to community concerns about Health Connected, several staff members — the district nurse, student services coordinator and some elementary teachers on special assignment — sought guidance in a meeting with the Santa Clara County Office of Education last month.

"One takeaway from the meeting was that other school districts are experiencing similar trends in community response to the new legislation, including concerns based on misinformation and inaccuracies," McGee wrote. (Parents in Cupertino have also protested the curriculum.)

This spring, Palo Alto Unified surveyed parents, teachers and students on Health Connected; the results "will be used to determine next steps or revisions to the planned implementation," the staff report reads.

If the majority of the board supports adopting Health Connected under the process outlined in board policy on selection and evaluation of instructional materials, staff is "ready and willing to do so," McGee wrote, noting that "given the time required for a full curriculum adoption it is not likely a new program could be put in place for 2017-18."

"It is important to note that PAUSD is statutorily required to provide comprehensive sexual health instruction," he wrote.

In other business Tuesday, the board is set to vote on its 2017-18 budget and a proposed balancing plan, discuss the high schools' annual Single Plan for Student Achievement reports and discuss plans for a major renovation of Addison Elementary School, among other items. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.

A front row seat to local high school sports.

Check out our new newsletter, the Playbook.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

School board to discuss sex education curriculum

Program implemented after California Healthy Youth Act

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Jun 5, 2017, 1:41 pm

The Palo Alto school board will discuss Tuesday night a new sex education curriculum that has drawn both intense opposition and strong support in the community.

A group of parents have protested the new curriculum, taught by Redwood City nonprofit Health Connected, primarily for being inappropriate content for seventh graders. They have also criticized the district's process for selecting the program as hasty and unrepresentative of parents, and have called for a more thorough vetting process akin to the one required for adoption of a full curriculum such as mathematics.

The school district added the seventh-grade Health Connected curriculum after a state law was updated with more comprehensive requirements around sex education for public schools and took effect last January. The California Healthy Youth Act requires districts to educate students about sexual health and HIV prevention at least once in middle school and once in high school. Previously, districts were only mandated to provide HIV-prevention education in middle and high school, though middle school science teachers in Palo Alto Unified gave said they have long taught their own sexual-health curriculum.

Other parents have turned out to school board meetings in recent months to voice their support for what they argue is much-needed and age-appropriate education about safe sex, gender identity, consent and other topics.

Staff is not recommending that the district replace Health Connected, but rather to ensure greater communication and transparency around the curriculum. The district should develop "specific, detailed, informational" presentations on Health Connected for parents and teachers, provide parents with full access to the curriculum materials before they are taught to students and make "clear" opt-out information available in multiple languages to parents, according to a staff report written by Superintendent Max McGee. The district is also adding information about the California Healthy Youth Act to its website.

The district has said staff considered Health Connected, taught over the course of 10 hours to seventh-graders, as a supplementary rather than primary curriculum that would not require a full adoption process.

An American Civil Liberties Union of California memo on the California Healthy Youth Act notes that parents must be notified of any planned sexual health instruction, provided the opportunity to review the materials and given the option to opt their child out of the instruction.

"Parents do not have the right," however, "to dictate what curriculum is used for sexual health education or what information is provided to students in public schools. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled that parents do not have any constitutional right 'to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so,'" the ACLU memo reads.

Staff are also recommending that teachers be trained in Health Connected materials, with the goal that they eventually become the primary educators delivering the curriculum. Currently, trained sexual health educators employed by the nonprofit teach the curriculum, with students' regular teachers present in the classroom.

Palo Alto and Gunn high schools have been using Health Connected lessons in their Living Skills classes since 2006. This year, the district also asked the nonprofit to teach its "Puberty Talk" lesson to Palo Alto Unified fifth-graders "to provide greater continuity and alignment with the middle school curricula," McGee wrote in his report.

In response to community concerns about Health Connected, several staff members — the district nurse, student services coordinator and some elementary teachers on special assignment — sought guidance in a meeting with the Santa Clara County Office of Education last month.

"One takeaway from the meeting was that other school districts are experiencing similar trends in community response to the new legislation, including concerns based on misinformation and inaccuracies," McGee wrote. (Parents in Cupertino have also protested the curriculum.)

This spring, Palo Alto Unified surveyed parents, teachers and students on Health Connected; the results "will be used to determine next steps or revisions to the planned implementation," the staff report reads.

If the majority of the board supports adopting Health Connected under the process outlined in board policy on selection and evaluation of instructional materials, staff is "ready and willing to do so," McGee wrote, noting that "given the time required for a full curriculum adoption it is not likely a new program could be put in place for 2017-18."

"It is important to note that PAUSD is statutorily required to provide comprehensive sexual health instruction," he wrote.

In other business Tuesday, the board is set to vote on its 2017-18 budget and a proposed balancing plan, discuss the high schools' annual Single Plan for Student Achievement reports and discuss plans for a major renovation of Addison Elementary School, among other items. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.

Comments

Happy Parent
Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2017 at 11:27 am
Happy Parent, Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2017 at 11:27 am

Thank you to the District for providing this comprehensive sex education curriculum! I hope the parents who have been misinformed or are upset get the information they need to make their own private decision about whether or not they want to opt out. In this day & age, I would rather my kids get information about this important life aspect from an informed school classroom discussion not a school recess rumor.


Green mom
South of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm
Green mom, South of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Why change what is not broken? The Sex Ed curriculum was fine as it was prior to this experiment! Please return to the original, the one offered and taught by the PAUSD Sciences teachers. There were no complaints then!
Please concentrate your efforts on finding a good principal for Gunn!!!


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 6, 2017 at 1:08 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 6, 2017 at 1:08 pm

We didn't get any information from the article about WHO is objecting to middle school sex education. My opinion: if you move to Palo Alto because of the high ranking of our schools, then don't try to change the curriculum.


Annoyed
JLS Middle School
on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm
Annoyed, JLS Middle School
on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Some of the parents are just so used to getting their own way, and are so busy pushing teachers and counselors and principals around, that they have failed to absorb the fact that "sex ed" is NOT a requirement!

If they don't want their children to take this class, then don't let them take it. Plain and simple!

But how will they keep their children from asking the ones taking the class what they are learning? Place gag orders on all the other kids?

[Portion removed.]


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2017 at 8:48 am
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2017 at 8:48 am

This morning I have a consult with an experienced sex ed educator who teaches parents how to speak with their kids and cover all the issues. If people choose to opt out, I hope they will make the effort to ensure their kids learn what they need to know to have healthy lives.


Parent
Palo Verde School
on Jun 7, 2017 at 9:31 am
Parent, Palo Verde School
on Jun 7, 2017 at 9:31 am

My take on sex ed is yes it has to be there, but it has to be done in such a way as to take the pressures off the teens who are reluctant to have sex and get involved in parties, drugs, alcohol as being as normal and healthy as those who do decide to get involved in sex.

I don't get involved in all the materials out there, but I do believe that teaching the subject should be done in such a way as those who "want to say no" to sex until such time as they are in a stable, long term relationship, or mature to deal with the issue are validated. I don't want them being told that when they get to high school (or whatever right of passage) that normal teenagers do sex and they will be pressurized into joining that culture. Saying "no" is perfectly acceptable.

I would also like to find out more about what is happening in these high school bathrooms. I think that if girls and boys were punished for going into the "wrong" bathroom then a lot of potential problems would not occur. If somebody goes into the wrong bathroom for any reason then it is breaking down societal norms. A girls bathroom should be a place of refuge for a girl and being asked into a boys bathroom for any reason is a red flag.


Brock Turner 2.0
Charleston Gardens
on Jun 7, 2017 at 10:36 am
Brock Turner 2.0, Charleston Gardens
on Jun 7, 2017 at 10:36 am

So for all those parents wanting to opt out of sex education, what responsibility will they bear if/when their child becomes a rapist because they never learned about consent or becomes the unfortunate victim of rape?

What professional sex ed counselors? A church where the pastor was recently found guilty of years of child molestation? Or the church on whose field trip the Paly rapist found one of his victims?

Silicon Valley, the DA's office and Stanford have sorry histories in failing to prosecute and/or even acknowledge sex crimes. Shame on all of them. And [Portion removed.]


Exhalation
Greene Middle School
on Jun 7, 2017 at 2:13 pm
Exhalation, Greene Middle School
on Jun 7, 2017 at 2:13 pm

I think we are all pretty much aware of who the people are who object to sex education in schools.

The problem is that chances are good that, if they don't want their kids to learn this at school, they almost certainly aren't talking to their kids at home!

Unfortunately, this is how things are in their native countries and have been for thousands of years.

All the rest of us can do is hope for the best, but plan for the worst.


Jordan parents.
Community Center
on Jun 8, 2017 at 12:40 pm
Jordan parents., Community Center
on Jun 8, 2017 at 12:40 pm

The real issue is the lack of openness. As usual, they reviewed and selected the vendor behind closed door. For strange reasons, they kept the materials secret from all parents and some of the staff. Typically, for a situation like this, most districts would bring in several vendors and review the materials in several open meetings. There are many educators and many curricula available in the Bay Area. Again, they rushed it and kept it a secret. Too suspicious.


@b2.0
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm
@b2.0, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm

It's the other way around. This was an opportunity to choose a curriculum that included education on consent.

Instead we got: "Board President Terry Godfrey, Vice President Ken Dauber and member Jennifer DiBrienza agreed that the now-controversial Teen Talk curriculum, taught to seventh-graders this spring by Redwood City nonprofit Health Connected, is appropriate, legally compliant and useful."

So, rather than taking this opportunity to address one of the causes of rape culture at our high-schools by leveraging this early education, the majority of the board simply went with the minimal requirement that met their legal obligations.

This board seems incapable of learning from its mistakes.


Middle school parent
JLS Middle School
on Jun 8, 2017 at 1:13 pm
Middle school parent, JLS Middle School
on Jun 8, 2017 at 1:13 pm

The current program does cover the important topic of consent, including the concept that intoxication may make it impossible to appropriately consent. My 7th grade boy went through it this year, and it's one of several aspects of the program we talked about at home.

We've been talking about consent and people's bodies being their own in age appropriate ways for a while now, which is probably why he thought to mention/discuss that particular aspect of the program to us, but other parts of the program are built to involve parent discussion as homework too.


@b2.0
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm
@b2.0, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm

@MSP

Of course it does. Is it the best out there? Does it cover it in sufficient depth? Are the additional resources re-enforcing it? How can we re-enforce it? Has this been prioritized? Are there better options?

You know, all the questions which would have been answered if they had treated this in the same way as any other curriculum approval rather than: "we'll do what we we're legally required to do and no more".

Given the current rape culture in the school high-schools in this district and the lack of community input, the board's attitude is appalling.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.