HomeSchools & YouthAdvanced Sex Education Hits Curriculum This Fall

Advanced Sex Education Hits Curriculum This Fall

THE CHAMP IS HERE: Henry Lyu, a sixth grader at Huntington Middle School was acknowledged at Tuesday’s San Marino School Board meeting for winning the SMUSD’s spelling bee this year. PICTURED ABOVE, left to right, are School Board President Lisa Link, spelling bee champion Henry Lyu, teacher and spelling bee administrator Sheila Doan and Interim Superintendent Loren Kleinrock. Mitch Lehman Photo

After years spent gently approaching the subject, the San Marino Unified School District this fall will dive headlong into health and sex education in accordance with the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA), it was reported at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Required curriculum—which must be taught for one year in middle school and another in high school—will include topics such as the nature of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and how they are prevented, treated and transmitted; contraception, abstinence, pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes; sexual orientations, same-sex relationships, gender expression and identity; sexual abuse and violence; and sexual harassment and human trafficking, according to a presentation given at the meeting by Jason Kurtenbach, the San Marino Unified School District’s executive director of curriculum and instruction. The curriculum must be implemented at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, according to Kurtenbach, who said “there isn’t a lot of wriggle room” in the instruction. 

“This is very prescriptive,” Kurtenbach said. “We cannot teach what we want and the subject must be taught from the beginning to the end.” Kurtenbach said the SMUSD will teach the subject matter in the 7th and 10th grades. 

In a phone conversation on Wednesday morning, Kurtenbach reiterated that the instruction is “mandated by the state.”

“There is no choice at all for the school districts,” Kurtenbach said. “The choice lies with the parents. In the past, it has been a district decision as to teach different aspects of the sex and HIV curriculum. What the state has done now with the CHYA is to take the decision away from the districts. Parents can now opt their student out of some or all of it. In the past, parents had to opt in.”

Whereas the sex and HIV topic was previously part of the science curriculum, it will now fall under the category of health. 

The agenda is being pushed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), according to Kurtenbach.

“In 2016, the CHYA law went into effect, but in excess of 90% of the school districts didn’t do much,” Kurtenbach explained. “So the ACLU got involved.” 

The ACLU, the California Department of Education and the state’s school districts eventually agreed on three curriculums that can be used to satisfy the requirement. The SMUSD will implement a program called Teen Talk that is health connected. 

The district will hold teacher training seminars in May, parent information nights in May and August and implement the program in August/September 2019, according to Kurtenbach’s presentation to the school board.  

Kurtenbach said the current course taught at the middle school is primarily focused on HIV. “It is not focused on sexual identity or human trafficking. It is not very comprehensive and does not talk much about pregnancy. The high school curriculum is a little bit more comprehensive. It talks about pregnancy, HIV and AIDS prevention and has a larger component of drug, alcohol and tobacco awareness.”

He also mentioned that the new law actually encourages communication between the students and their parents and guardians.

Element 26 of the CHYA encourages “communication with trusted adults, parents and other local resources.”

The board also heard a report from Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Linda de la Torre that indicated a trend of declining enrollment in California’s public schools, including the SMUSD. She mentioned that the district had 3,141 students on the last day of the 2014-15 school year and just 2,978 on the final day in 2018-19, a decrease of 2.4%. Statewide, 55% of all K-12 districts are in decline, de la Torre said, citing California’s high cost of housing, high tax rates and a perception that California is “a non business-friendly state.” 

Locally, de la Torre said, San Marino’s high cost of housing and the number of vacant and senior-owned homes has also affected enrollment. She said that there are currently 81 vacant homes in San Marino and 837 residents filed senior exemptions for the recently passed parcel tax. 

“We will continue to market our programs, stay abreast of enrollment trends and engage in strategic planning,” de la Torre said. 

The board also acknowledged Huntington Middle School sixth grader Henry Lyu for winning the San Marino Unified School District’s spelling bee.  

“He was our last man standing,” said teacher Sheila Doan, who helps administrate the spelling bee. Doan pointed out that Henry successfully spelled “echelon” and “synchronized” in succession to win the San Marino bee.

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