Parents can still review new VUSD health textbook

Parents uncomfortable with new chapters on sexuality and contraception can opt their child out of receiving those materials which are not included in the textbook

VISALIA – Visalia Unified parents concerned about changes in curriculum regarding sexuality and contraception can review the new textbook and supplemental materials and decide if they want to opt their child out of those lessons before their teen starts the school year.

Parents have until the start of the school year on Aug. 12 to review the material and notify the district if they want to opt out of the Health Skills curriculum covering sexuality and contraception. The updated textbook, Goodheart-Wilcox Comprehensive Health Skills for High School 2021, received mixed reviews from the public earlier this summer when it was adopted by the board to comply with state law. The discussion centered around two chapters in Unit 8 of the textbook covering “Human Development and Sexuality.” Most of this section has been part of traditional “sex ed” classes since the 1970s with biological discussions of the male and female reproductive systems, contraception, conception, pregnancy and birth as well as teen pregnancy and teen parenthood. The updated aspects of the Health Education Curriculum Framework include a lesson on the “Aspects of Sexuality,” a discussion of differences between biological sex, gender and sexual orientation, LGBTQ+ -inclusive language, and a brief, two-paragraph entry on masturbation.

On Dec. 10, 2020, the state superintendent issued a letter to all county and district educational agencies that “Instruction shall affirmatively recognize that people have different sexual orientations and, when discussing or providing examples of relationships and couples, must be inclusive of same-sex relationships. It must also teach students about gender, gender expression, and gender identity and explore the harm of negative gender stereotypes.”

There are also two pages about human trafficking in Unit 5, “Establishing Healthy Relationships” which also includes a lesson on abstinence, which it describes as the decision to refrain from sexual activity which “can include sexual intercourse and other activities.” It also discusses sexting, including that it is “risky, harmful, and illegal” amongst teens, common sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS/HIV and other diseases. Other updates to the new material include guidance on nutrition and physical activity, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and skin care.

Parents were given an opportunity to review the new textbook between May 26 and June 4, prior to the board’s adoption of the new, state-mandated update to the curriculum at its June 8 board meeting.

“We do notify parents through multiple channels from the school site and the district with the option to opt out in any of the material that they’re not comfortable with,” VUSD spokesperson Kim Batty said. “We have multiple chains of communication that are going to parents before the curriculum reaches that point.”

Prior to that meeting, the board heard both written and verbal comments both against and in favor of the new curriculum during the first reading of the its adoption of new health instructional materials at its May 25 meeting. One parent wrote, “Please allow me to be blunt: exclude this trash!” The only written comment in favor of the curriculum said “CA standards are integrated very well.” Pamela Silva was one of two people to speak during public comment on the issue. She said the chapters were too graphic for children and “very detailed about how you have gay sex.”

The board was presented with two versions of the textbook, Option B, known as the “essential” version of the Health Skills textbook, and Option A, known as the “comprehensive” version of the text book. The comprehensive version includes the two chapters on “Understanding Sexuality” and “Pregnancy Prevention” while the essential version does not.

Meeka Sanchez, health educator at Redwood and a parent of a VUSD student, urged the board to adopt the textbook including Chapters 23 and 24.

“Yes, the textbook discusses LGBTQ+ terminology, but only in a way to educate and promote the understanding of others,” Sanchez said. “Chapter can be an asset to students that may identify within LGBTQ+ community, a resource to parents who may have a student in the community or as a supplemental material for current curriculum.”

Trustee Walta Gamoian motioned to adopt Option B, approving the textbook without the two chapters but providing those chapters in supplemental materials to students whose parents opt into the discussion on those chapters.

“I would like to go with Option B that way parents have the option to look at material and they can opt out,” Gamoian said.

Andre Pecina, administrator of curriculum and instruction for VUSD, said the district will provide supplemental materials for those two chapters for students whose parents opt into the full curriculum and those who opt out will not see the material. Pecina said there is no academic penalty for students who opt out from not participating in those sections.

“We’ve been using supplemental material for over 15 years,” Pecina said.

The board ultimately voted for Option B on a 5-1 vote. Trustee Megan Casebeer-Soleno was the lone dissenting vote because she said she wanted to approve Option A based on the recommendation of the teachers who reviewed the material. She was told only a handful of parents at each site, on average, opt out of the curriculum.

Trustee John Crabtree abstained from the vote in protest of the California Healthy Youth Act. The law was passed in 2018 and is the basis for the new health curriculum framework which included more LGBT-plus inclusive language and the chapters on sexuality adopted by the State Board of Education in May 2019.

“The first discovery of one’s sexuality can be a beautiful moment in life,” Crabtree said. “I personally don’t think believe young people need to be given options before they discover it.”

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