Boardmember Laura Capps | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Following hours of vehement opposition from parents and other community members about a sexual education curriculum, the Santa Barbara School Board unanimously adopted the disputed curriculum, Teen Talk. 

It was time. 

That was the sentiment of all five board members, who weren’t hearing the Teen Talk resistance for the first time Tuesday. It was first brought before the board nearly a year ago as an option for compliance with the 2016 California Healthy Youth Act, which requires school districts to provide students with “integrated, comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education” at least once in middle and high school. The board approved it for the middle-school level.

“This process has been ongoing since last fall, and I believe it is time to move forward on a curriculum that’s compliant, that’s data-driven, that’s scientific,” Board President Laura Capps said. “…Often, most of my days are speaking to parents. I’ve met with many of the opponents to Teen Talk who spoke this evening. You know that; I’ve sat down with many of you and talked to many of you on the phone.”

The outrage over the curriculum stemmed from a wide range of rationale. Some charged that Teen Talk teaches values that are against every major religion and that it is part of a greater agenda to indoctrinate children, some also claiming it grooms them for pedophilia. Many criticized it for not being inclusive of the moral views of parents and pushed for adoption of a different curriculum, HEART, which includes a parent/student interview assignment. 

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A large majority also claimed that Teen Talk has no Spanish version and that the district has kept Spanish-speaking parents in the dark, although the curriculum is available in Spanish and several Spanish-speaking parents spoke, many vehemently opposed to Teen Talk while others were supportive of it.

“I have two kids at Santa Barbara Unified schools, and I am in favor of this sexual education,” Manuela Fierros said in Spanish through translator Sofia Rubalcava. “We as Latinos didn’t receive sexual education, and many people became parents at a young age because they didn’t have an appropriate education. In my case, I feel like it’s a much-needed curriculum both for parents and students because sometimes my kids ask me things that I don’t know how to answer.”

At the heart of the clash was transparency. Nearly all who spoke against Teen Talk implored the board to table the discussion until more parent input could be collected and that the curriculum itself has been largely hidden from the public. The district held five parent-input meetings in January 2020, and the curriculum itself has been available for viewing in the superintendent’s office since March.

“The first time that the curriculum was brought forward for parent review, I believe the process was not as transparent as it could have been to parents and the community,” said Boardmember Jackie Reid. “But the board made additional opportunities for parents to review the curriculum and further interested parents have been able to meet with boardmembers and the superintendent to discuss the program.”

School board candidate Monie de Wit spoke out in support of sexual education but against picking one that is not accepted by parents, because she feared many parents might opt out and fewer students will receive any sexual education at all. Other school board candidates Brian Campbell and Elrawd Maclearn were among those who spoke out against the curriculum. Charles Cole, candidate for the 37th State Assembly District, spoke out bitterly against Teen Talk before his father, Thomas Cole, similarly blasted the curriculum.

“I represent CAPE, Citizens Against Porn Education,” Thomas Cole said. “We are against Teen Talk, and we are a group of concerned parents, educators, and residents of Montecito and Santa Barbara, and we want the board to know that if Teen Talk goes through, we are prepared to file suit against each one of you for supplying porn to our teens.”

Cole went on to say that CAPE would have a judge make every boardmember recite the text of Teen Talk and explain “the most interesting parts” to “a judge and jury” before he sends the transcripts out to the community with the boardmember’s names attached to “see how much you really support Teen Talk.”

The “interesting parts” Cole likely referred to are the curriculum’s coverage of topics such as safe oral sex, anal sex, LGBTQ-inclusive lessons and terminology, and consent to sex or sexual acts — all topics that were consistently brought up as egregious.

“My grandmother would always say that each generation gets wiser in terms of that because of the access to technology; our kids already have access,” Boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten said. “They can look at things we don’t necessarily want them to look at, so we want to make sure that they have fact-based information. 

“Some of the consternation and the comments were, ‘I don’t want my child to be exposed to that…’ It’s the uncomfortableness of talking to my child about this. And we did talk about how Teen Talk does create the opportunity for parents to have that difficult conversation, and if nothing else, it starts the conversation.”

Teen Talk will be implemented in spring 2021, and training for teachers and parents is in the current fall/winter semester. The class will take place over the 30-minute universal independent learning time on Mondays and will be taught by health-credentialed staff and PE teachers. Parents can opt their child out of the class, which the district will communicate to families.

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