More than 100 parents, students and community members marched Friday outside the Sacramento County Office of Education, protesting California’s controversial new framework for sex education adopted earlier this month.
The newly mobilized group Informed Parents of California planned similar rallies at education offices in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties to oppose the State Board of Education’s approval of the revisions to the health and sex education framework.
Despite large protests, the board unanimously approved the new guidelines that provide educators with K-12 educational resources on issues including safe sex, sex trafficking, sexual orientation and how to support transgender and non-conforming students in the classroom.
Schools are not required to implement the framework; they are merely recommendations for teachers and administrators.
“The framework is infringing on my First Amendment right,” said Rock Gall, a physical education teacher in Folsom Cordova Unified, who is concerned that he could be forced to teach something against his faith. “As a Christian, I kept that part of my life at home, and I think it’s important for others to keep their personal views at home. If I’m playing by the rules, so should everyone else.”
Informed Parents of California called for a “sit-out,” in which parents kept their children home from school Friday to protest the changes. It was unclear how many students participated in the Sacramento region and throughout the state.
County offices such as Sacramento’s do not select curriculum or influence school districts’ decisions, said SCOE spokesman Tim Herrera. Districts have the autonomy to choose their curriculum and materials as long as they comply with the law.
“We’re neutral in this,” said Herrera. “We don’t tell the districts what curriculum to use. We have to remain publisher neutral. But I have told a lot of parents you have a right to be here, and if you want your voice to be heard, go to your local school board and tell them how you feel.”
A widely distributed online petition had 26,000 signatures calling for an amendment to the Healthy Youth Act. The petition called for transparency, age-appropriate material and parental oversight to “protect children from being exposed” to comprehensive sex education and gender issues.
Jenica Williams joined the rally after protesting San Juan Unified’s new textbook curriculum. Elk Grove Unified and Rocklin Unified adopted similar textbooks that include LGBT leaders. California’s FAIR Education Act, passed in 2011, mandates that school textbooks and curricula be more inclusive of all historically underrepresented communities.
Williams said now that the health framework has been revised, she is pulling her kindergarten-age son out of the district and enrolling him to a private Christian school.
“Kids are being told to challenge gender stereotypes, and it puts in their mind that maybe they should be another gender,” she said. “How is that not indoctrination? The line has been crossed. The history and social sciences books were one thing, but this is too much.”
But Equality California, an organization that advocates for the inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, says that the framework provides all students with the education and tools to lead healthy lives.
“We don’t believe any of this will prime students to do anything they wouldn’t normally do,” said Equality California’s communications manager, Josh Stickney. “It’s important to dispel myths and stigma around sex relations for the LGBT community. That starts with awareness and sex education.”
Michelle Thompson, a mother of four who attended the rally, said she supports the inclusion of sex education for all students, including LGBT students, in both the textbooks and the health education framework. But Thompson said the framework is too explicit.
“Accurate information will help our children make important decisions about their sex lives,” Thompson said. “But when I look at the framework, I see that it instructs fourth-graders on masturbation and that homosexual feelings are felt by all. I think that goes beyond what sex education should be. It feels like they are priming our very young children to be sexually active.”
Students can opt out of lessons about sexual health. But the state says students can’t opt out of lessons that include gender identity and discrimination and explain social issues such as the Supreme Court ruling establishing same-sex marriage rights.
“The framework merely recognizes that 5-10 percent or more of California’s population and students iidentify as LGBTQ, and that the framework should recognize this fact so as to be relevant to all students,” read a statement from Equality California’s executive director, Rick Zbur. “The inclusion of age appropriate framework that reflects LGBTQ people as part of our community is also important to reduce bullying, end stigma and make our schools safe and supportive for all students.”
The California Healthy Youth Act, signed into law three years ago, requires that school districts teach students in grades seven to 12 comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education. It is permissible to teach content related to sexual health and HIV prevention to elementary-age students, according to the Department of Education.
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