Santa Barbara School Board Punts Sex Ed Decision

Parents and Community Members Voice Concern over District’s Newly Proposed Curriculum

Dr. Anne Roundy-Harter, director of secondary education at SBUSD, sets the record straight about what the district does and doesn’t include in sexual education curriculum.  | Credit: Paul Wellman

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The boogeyman appears in many forms. For one group of concerned Santa Barbarans, the mythical creature is creeping into local public schools under the guise of anal sex, gender identity, and birth control discussions.  

The Santa Barbara School Board meeting was packed Tuesday night — mostly by parents and community members concerned with the district’s newly proposed sexual education curriculum, Teen Talk. The curriculum was presented to the board for approval in the district’s four middle schools, though they ultimately pushed the decision back to a later meeting due to lack of community feedback.

“The lesson provides information on nine common [sexually transmitted infections], but it tends to whitewash them and understate the seriousness of the diseases,” Justin Shores said. “This curriculum is why I took my kids out of the public schools this year and put them into private school. I go to church more now because of this. This stuff is scary, and my kids will not be indoctrinated by it.”

Shores was one of more than 10 sex-ed adversaries who called out a specific parts of the Teen Talk curriculum they found unacceptable. Many of them claimed the curriculum is unconstitutional by promoting secular humanism, and one dad claimed that “most parents want their child to remain abstinent until marriage,” suggesting the curriculum encourages childhood sex.

“These [sexual education lessons] are sensitive topics, so we need to be kind and understand they can bring up a lot of emotions for folks, which I think we’ve seen displayed here tonight,” said Dr. Anne Roundy-Harter, director of secondary education at the school district. 

“The pickle that we’re in, as every district is in, is that we are currently noncompliant with the law,” Roundy-Harter said. “I’ve talked to Carpinteria, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Ventura, and some have moved forward with curriculum adoption and some are still in the process.”

The law, known as the California Healthy Youth Act, was approved under Assembly Bill 329 in 2016. It requires school districts to provide students with “integrated, comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education.” However, each district’s locally elected leadership chooses which curriculum and instructional resources, including textbooks, are used in that district. 

The Santa Barbara District currently uses the Holt Decisions for Health textbook, but because it doesn’t meet the new requirements, the district must select a new curriculum.

Parents fumed that the chosen curriculum covered too-explicit topics for the age group like anal sex and pregnancy prevention, and that it shut parents out of an important life discussion with their child. Roundy-Harter repeatedly emphasized that Teen Talk encourages students to talk to their parents, and that parents have the ability to opt their child out of any part of the curriculum at any time.

“Whether we like it or not, kids are experimenting, kids are questioning, kids are making some poor choices and unhealthy choices,” Roundy-Harter said. “The goal of the act is to try to help students make healthier choices in their lives.”

The board decided against either adopting or not adopting the curriculum Tuesday because of the small number of participants in parent and community stakeholder meetings. In January, Roundy-Harter held five such meetings — all current district middle school parents were invited — and nonparents in the community attended, as well. Between 8 and 25 people showed up to each session.

“I’m concerned that we didn’t have that many people show up and we were limited to one month,” said Jacqueline Reid, board vice president. “Although you sent out an invite in November, the turnout was really limited.”

After gathering additional community feedback, Roundy-Harter will bring the curriculum back before the board for a vote.

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