Credit: Delaney Smith

Hundreds of parents and grandparents mobbed the Santa Barbara Unified School District Tuesday night in a public comment faceoff over the district’s proposed sexual education curriculum. 

This was the second meeting in two weeks in which the curriculum, Teen Talk, dominated the conversation. But this time, there were more than just critics at the podium. Several supporters, including teens at local high schools, also spoke in support of Teen Talk.

“As a young Latina, I didn’t grow up with the opportunities to talk about these topics so freely,” said Daniela Elias, a sophomore at San Marcos High School. “I definitely didn’t have the resources to learn about healthy relationships, sexual or not.” She went on to explain that she took classes at Planned Parenthood that filled in the gaps she wasn’t able to learn at school, and she urged the board to adopt the Teen Talk curriculum so other teens would have access.

The topic was highly contested, with some adults directing criticism at Elias and the other high school students. Grandparent Helene Willrich, for example, directly addressed the students instead of the board, saying, “Sorry, guys, I guess you all know everything in 10th grade.”

At the core of the issue, most parents against Teen Talk feel it doesn’t allow them enough of a role in their child’s sexual education, and they felt the lessons in the book were beyond what is age appropriate. The vast number of speakers were vehemently against Teen Talk and instead embraced a curriculum called Heart, which is based around the student interviewing their parents about the lesson materials at home.

“We are asking you to adopt Heart curriculum and to reject Teen Talk,” said Barbara Batastini, a regular local critic of Teen Talk. “It is our position there are at least 15 reasons why Teen Talk doesn’t comply with state law.… We will not allow our children to become exploited and become a sexual experiment.”

One parent, Justin Shores, said he even removed his children from the district because of Teen Talk, although it has not been adopted and parents are able to opt their child out of any or all parts of the curriculum, regardless of which one is adopted. 

The district must adopt a new curriculum as soon as it can because the current one is out of compliance with state law — the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) — which was approved in 2016 and requires school districts to provide students with “integrated, comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education.”

Each district’s locally elected leadership chooses which curriculum and instructional resources, including textbooks, are used in that district. More than 20 spoke in favor of adopting the Heart curriculum. 

According to its supporters, Heart is CHYA compliant and Teen Talk is not. The Independent could not verify whether Heart is in line with CHYA standards, but Teen Talk is one of six state-approved curricula despite its critics saying otherwise.

The topic is still in public dialogue phases, and there is no date scheduled for a board vote to adopt Teen Talk or any other curriculum. 


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