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Does San Diego's New Sex Ed. Curriculum Go Too Far?

CORRECTED

A petition on change.org that has garnered 1,136 supporters calls for the suspension of San Diego school district's new sex education curriculum, arguing the content is "too much, too soon."

Among the claims: "the curriculum encourages early sexual curiosity and experimentation" and "encourages behaviors, including mutual masturbation." The petition cites this chart from the 6th grade curriculum as evidence:

risk_chart.jpg"Some who don't find the content age appropriate, it's because they are uncomfortable with it and that's not what the ed code defines as age appropriate," program coordinator Rachel Miller told Education Week.

Miller said the district has trained 297 staff members in the curriculum and that a survey with a 70 percent response rate showed that 85 percent of teachers felt the content was age appropriate.  

The new curriculum was adopted to comply with the California Healthy Youth Act, which came into effect in January 2016. Evie Blad reported in a 2015 Education Week article that the law requires secondary schools to offer sex education classes that include medically accurate teaching about human development and sexuality, including education on pregnancy, contraception, sexual orientation, and sexually transmitted infections. Parents can opt out their children if they desire.

Teachers began using the new curriculum, created by Advocates for Youth, in the 2016-2017 school year with an opt out rate of less than 1 percent, according to Miller. She pointed out that the curriculum is used in at least 100 big school districts including New York City, Boston, and Baltimore and that it was chosen by San Diego State professors, the state's department of health and education as well as parent and faith-based groups. Students in 6th and 8th grades and high school are required to take the lessons.

Ashley Bever, the mother of an 11 and 12 year old, helped to start the petition against the curriculum, arguing the students are too young for the information taught. Both she and the petition cite a website that is not a part of the curriculum, but a supplemental resource for students to explore health topics on their own.

"It's basically cartoon porn," Bever told ABC 10 News. "You have depictions of cartoon characters disrobing, engaging in sexual acts."

The 2 to 4 minute animated videos from amaze.org explore sexual health topics like puberty, sexual orientation and healthy relationships for 10 to 14 year olds. In the personal safety section there is video called "Porn: Fact or Fiction."

"The video's message is that sometimes you might accidentally (or on purpose) find online pornography, and if you do, they don't represent relationships in reality or loving intimacy and there's exaggerated body parts and situations. And if you come across this imagery and are curious, you should talk to a parent or trusted adult," said Miller. "Literally, that's the message."

The video does show cartoon images of exaggerated body parts, and those protesting the curriculum showed screen shots of them to make their case. The district cut the website from the supplemental resource list, but stressed that the video and the website are not the curriculum.

Miller further asserts that many signers of the petition to quash the curriculum are not from San Diego, and that many decrying the curriculum at board meetings are not parents of children in the district. After many conversations with Bever, Miller suspects the agenda is really to eliminate LGBTQ issues from the curriculum and any talk of sexuality outside of marriage.

"We just can't do that, not just because of the law but based on best practices to support the reality of all of our kids," Miller said. "The reality is that more than 50 percent of students have had sex by senior year. We have to make sure they are being healthy."

And the new curriculum, according to Miller, leads to students making healthier choices like delaying sex, picking more respectful partners, and practicing safe sex.

The petition suggests that the old sex ed curriculum be used until the current one can be revised with parental input, but the school board and superintendent have affirmed the continued use of the sex ed curriculum as is.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of staff members trained in the curriculum. The correct number is 297.

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