Conejo Valley Unified School District board of education approved a sex education curriculum, a big step in a years-long process that sparked much community debate and led to a reference of a board member as a “Nazi.”
The school board unanimously voted to move forward with the Teen Talk curriculum at its Tuesday meeting. The decision will allow the district to comply with the 2016 California Healthy Youth Act.
The vote came after a fiery public comment period for the item.
District parents and community members who came to speak were against the adoption of the curriculum for its alleged sexualizing students and “indoctrination” in the language used.
Trustees pushed back on what they called misinformation in the comments.
State law requires districts to provide a comprehensive sexual health education, including HIV prevention information to students in seventh through 12th grades. It specifically requires the curriculum to be age-appropriate and “comprehensive, accurate and unbiased.” Any instructional materials related to the curriculum must recognize gender, gender expression and different sexual orientations.
The district originally delayed changes to the curriculum to wait for the state school board to adopt an updated health education framework in 2019 and publish the document through the California Department of Education.
Since 2016, the district has reviewed six comprehensive health curriculums, including Glencoe, the one currently used by the district.
The board has taken some action over the years to come into compliance, including updating its parental consent policy to abide by state law. While active consent is not required from parent or guardian, they do have the right to opt-out of part or all “comprehensive sexual health education, HIV prevention education, and assessments related to that education” on behalf of their child, the law states.
In January, the board went with staff recommendation to narrow the choices down to three: Positive Prevention Plus, Teen Talk and Rights Respect Responsibility.
Since then, the district has held curriculum preview webinars, presentations to various district advisory councils and board study sessions in addition to a health webpage.
In May, a review of the curriculum including feedback from stakeholders was presented in an information item to the school board.
Ultimately, staff recommended going with Teen Talk, which was then put on Tuesday’s board meeting agenda as a consent item. It was pulled at the beginning of the meeting to allow discussion.
Anger was palpable as speaker after speaker came into the boardroom and took to the podium to address the Teen Talk curriculum.
“I don’t know any informed parent who supports Teen Talk at all,” said Steve Coker, a community member.
Speakers took issue with what they described as the curriculum’s apparent promotion of “pornographic behaviors,” as one parent said, or normalization of sexual behaviors.
Patti Jones, who ran for school board in November, talked about the teacher reviews of the Teen Talk, and had problems with the student activities outlined in the curriculum and the information about abortion.
Tim Cooley, speaking as someone who is conservative, said kids should not be “indoctrinated” with content that is not age appropriate nor medically accurate.
“Stop abusing this generation of children with your anti-moral, hate-filled, radically progressive indoctrination,” he said.
State law defines a comprehensive sex health education as “education regarding human development and sexuality, including education on pregnancy, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections.” This has to be done in a medically accurate and unbiased manner that does not teach or promote “religious doctrine.”
When speakers went back to the area they were gathered in, they often went back to loud cheers and applause.
Also audible during those periods were personal insults toward the school board, and Board President Jenny Fitzgerald in particular, calling them “scumbags,” “Nazis” and other derogatory language.
Board pushes back
In her remarks after public comment, Fitzgerald said there is “great leeway” in the comments public speakers can make and that it doesn’t mean they aren’t discriminatory or hateful.
“I will repeat that to the members of the LGBTQ+ community: I am so sorry,” the board president said. “You are not, as referenced, ‘a mistake.'”
She said they are loved exactly as they are.
“We recognize that there are families who do not want their children participating for various reasons,” Fitzgerald said. “But as a district, the requirement is that we offer the information for the full student population.”
She said that applies to all students, including those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, who may be sexually active or who may be exposed to something harmful and need resources to deal with it.
Superintendent Mark McLaughlin explained that once a decision is made, the district will build courses and work with teachers on going through the material. This is where decisions would be made about what work and activities would be given to students.
“We’re not just buying a canned curriculum to implement,” McLaughlin said. “There’s going to be work with our teachers and community on what that looks like.”
Kenneth Loo, CVUSD director of middle school education and professional learning, said that the information would be provided to families and staff to review. This would allow families to decide whether to opt their children out.
The district will also be monitoring and soliciting feedback as needed during initial implementation.