The California State Board of Education has overhauled its sex education guidance for public school teachers in a 700-page document it approved Wednesday, May 8.
While the guidance does not require teachers to follow specific instructional courses, instead its designed as a curriculum guideline for teachers to meet state standards on health education. The new standards encourages open discussions and instruction on subjects such as nutrition, physical activity and combating alcohol and drug abuse.
Educators are also encouraged to discuss gender identity with primary school students starting in grades K-6 and give advice to LGBTQ teenagers for navigating relationships and stressing the importance of safe sex and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
The sex guidelines contained within the guidance have drawn very vocal opposition as some parents and a majority of California’s conservative ‘family’ groups characterized the document as an assault on parental rights, all arguing that the guidelines expose children to ideas about sexuality and gender that should be taught at home.
While LGBTQ Advocacy groups are pleased with the new guidelines that highlight a community more often than not left out of sex ed policies, so called Christian family values groups are angered.
The guidelines’ framework tells teachers that students in kindergarten can identify as transgender and offers tips for how to talk about that, adding “the goal is not to cause confusion about the gender of the child but to develop an awareness that other expressions exist.”
It gives tips for discussing masturbation with middle-schoolers, including telling them it is not physically harmful, and for discussing puberty with transgender teens that creates “an environment that is inclusive and challenges binary concepts about gender.” NBC News LGBTQ media division NBC Out reported.
Much of the pushback focused not on the framework, but on the books it recommends students read. An earlier draft of the document suggested high schoolers read “S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties.” It includes descriptions of anal sex, bondage and other sexual activity.
During the hearing prior to final approval by the Board on Wednesday, nearly 200 people signed up to speak, many in protest, several of whom were parents who described the books as obscene. The board responded by removing those books from the guidance.
“It’s important to know the board is not trying to ban books. We’re not saying that the books are bad,” board member Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon said. “But the removal will help avoid the misunderstanding that California is mandating the use of these books.”
One of the speakers was Los Angeles resident 16-year-old Phoenix Ali Rajah, a trans boy who told the Board he is rarely taught information for people like him during sex education classes at his Los Angeles area high school.
“I’m never taught about how to be in a relationship with gay men,” he said, adding that the “conversation with sex starts from a different place.”
KCRA-TV3, the Sacremento NBC-affiliate reported that Planned Parenthood enthusiastically supported the books as additional resource materials for students who needed them.
“A lot of these materials that are being presented are based on feedback from students in different age levels, from kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Cheri Greven, with Planned Parenthood.
Greven said the books answer questions the students are asking.
“These are conversations these students are having,” Greven said. “So do we meet them with no information at all — or do we meet them where they are at and give them medically accurate information that they can make the healthy decisions for their own lives?”
Reporting by NBC Out, KCRA-TV3, and the staff of the Los Angeles Blade.