A San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) sexual education curriculum and anti-bullying initiative were the target of intense opposition from parents at a school board meeting last week.
The SDUSD board sexual education curriculum, which was adopted last October, uses video animation and interviews with expert health professionals to educate its students, beginning in the 6th grade. The curriculum includes lessons on the physical changes caused by puberty and guidance on the emotional and social changes that accompany adolescence. In addition to widely-taught lessons on sexually-transmitted infections, the SDUSD curriculum also teaches valuable lessons on respecting personal boundaries and safe internet use.
Over 2,000 alarmed parents petitioned to suspend the sex-ed curriculum, with some arguing it was "too much, too soon" for 6th graders. Some parents objected that the course contained misogynistic and pornographic materials and complained that they don't adequately promote abstinence. But, abstinence-only sex education often excludes mention of contraception, safe sex practices, and diverse sexual orientations, teaching instead, "that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity." NCAC opposes abstinence-only education as a form of censorship and applauds the many parents, teachers, and community members who defended the value of fact-based sex education, inclusive of all sexual orientations and free of religious dogma.
Inconsistencies in the state's classification of "middle grades" may have added another layer of confusion. California law requires that each student receive sexual education "at least once in junior high or middle school and at least once in high school." While the law on sex education defines middle school as "grades 7 to 12," the California Department of Education defines middle school as grades 6 to 8. The discrepancy gave parents the impression that SDUSD was violating California law by teaching sex education to middle school students one year earlier than 7th grade. Last week, the SDUSD board resolved to keep the curriculum in place while emphasizing the right of parents to opt-out of the curriculum.
The board also voted to implement an anti-bullying policy, which was introduced in April, in response to disproportionate attacks against Muslim students in the district. A group of parents denied that Muslim children in San Diego were particularly vulnerable to bullying and sued the district for linking with the Council for the American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to implement the program. CAIR, they argued, is a political organization with a particular faith-based purpose and any public program favoring of particular faiths over others is unconstitutional. But while the Constitution prohibits schools from favoring particular religions, it does not prohibit schools from teaching about religious differences, especially when students can learn valuable lessons on religious tolerance and civil rights.
At the meeting the board stressed that the program – which would be an extension of the Anti-Defamation League's "No Place for Hate" campaign – aims to protect students of all faiths. The board underlined the establishment of an intercultural/interfaith anti-bullying committee and efforts to celebrate all major religious holidays on the school calendar – that would demonstrate its inclusive aims.
Ultimately, in the face of discord and subjective morality-based arguments, the board stood up for the rights of all of its students to learn in a safe and respectful environment.