Education

Rocklin group mobilizes parents, saying California sex ed curriculum goes way too far

See the town hall where Rocklin parents discussed sex education

A town hall meeting led by Informed Parents of Rocklin at William Jessup University took a look at curriculum involving sexual education and historical studies of LGBT leaders on August 28, 2019.
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A town hall meeting led by Informed Parents of Rocklin at William Jessup University took a look at curriculum involving sexual education and historical studies of LGBT leaders on August 28, 2019.

A Rocklin-based organization is mobilizing Sacramento-area parents, hosting an event Wednesday night to share material they say indicates California’s comprehensive sex education curriculum goes far beyond what students need.

More than 300 people attended a town hall meeting at William Jessup University, a Christian liberal arts school in Rocklin. Informed Parents of Rocklin placed state approved books on display, saying they hope parents will be better informed about the new curriculum.

The organization, part of a statewide group called Informed Parents of California, says the curriculum greatly exceeds what the law requires, introducing sex and feelings toward the same gender in material that is inappropriate for students of any age.

“We agree kids need sex ed,” said Rachel Crutchfield, founder of Informed Parents of Rocklin. “We just feel like what they are learning is far and beyond what they need.”

The California Department of Education approved controversial changes to the state’s health and sex education framework in May, but removed five resources and books that some organizations called “sexually explicit,” including a book that explains sex to students as young as kindergarten.

The California Healthy Youth Act, signed into law three years ago, requires that school districts teach students grades seven to 12 comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education. Teaching this content to elementary-age students is also permitted, according to the Department of Education.

The Healthy Youth Act is mandatory, but the Health Education Framework is not. The framework consists of K-12 public school health curriculum recommendations covering a wide range of topics including nutrition, physical activity, growth and sexual health. It also covers topics like alcohol, tobacco, other drug use, and emotional and personal health.

But most of the recent framework changes that stirred controversy involved sex education.

In May, Rocklin Unified School District approved a new history and social studies curriculum called Studies Weekly that many California school districts were already using that includes LGBT figures. The district rejected an alternative curriculum proposal backed by Informed Parents of Rocklin that did not mention historical figures’ sexuality.

California’s FAIR Education Act mandates that school textbooks be more inclusive of historically underrepresented communities, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. According to the state Education Department, California is a local control state, in which school districts determine policies on implementing curriculum legislation. The district and Informed Parents disagree on whether the alternative curriculum backed by the group, Teacher Created Materials, meets the state’s requirements.

While that decision did not directly involve sex education, Crutchfield said her organization felt compelled to host the Wednesday night event after Rocklin Unified and several other Sacramento area districts began voting one by one to adopt curriculum that would teach students “highly sexualized” material.

Supporters of the new framework say it has met with broad acceptance in the region. “What we are seeing in the Sacramento community is an open arms approach to this curriculum, “ said Cheri Greven, the local Planned Parenthood director of Public Affairs, at a May state Board of Education meeting. “A number of parents spoke up saying they were in favor of this. One father told me it allowed him and his son to open a new line of communication about these topics.”

But Crutchfield said not only is the material controversial. but it’s too much to review – and approve – for most parents.

“What a lot of parents don’t understand about sex ed is it used to be three videos, and parents would go and watch, and they would know exactly what their children will be taught,” Crutchfield said. “Now it’s thirteen 45-minute lessons. It’s a lot of info to go through. The sheer volume is practically impossible to know what children are learning.”

The state-approved books for the curriculum are not mandatory, but rather are recommendations as supplemental materials for teachers to choose from when covering health education.

Recommended books include prompts about gender fluidity and questions aimed at elementary-age students such as, “How do you know if you’re gay?”

Materials for high school students discuss safe sex and, according to groups like Informed Parents, are much more sexually explicit.

“They challenge binary concepts about gender,” said Informed Parent member Kelly Smith in a presentation to the audience. “Some of the material is factual, but is it appropriate for a third-grader? You decide.”

Dean Broyles, chief counsel for the National Center for Law and Policy, a conservative legal defense fund, attended the event and talked to parents about their legal rights, including opting out of sex ed. He gave instructions on what to do if parents believe their child is being discriminated against for their beliefs.

“Our priority is to make all children feel comfortable at school,” read a statement from the Department of Education in May when the framework was approved. “Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes and linking students to resources can help prevent bullying, self-harm, feelings of hopelessness, and serious considerations of suicide.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 30, 2019, to clarify how school districts implement curriculum policies under California legislation, and to reflect that Rocklin Unified and Informed Parents of Rocklin disagree on whether the social studies curriculum backed by the group meets the state’s requirements.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
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