Sex education at Santa Barbara, San Marcos and Dos Pueblos High Schools is falling short of school board policy and ultimately state law, according to an audit conducted by Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura & San Luis Obispo Counties. Though the district has the opportunity to bring up its scores, it currently ranks among the lowest in three counties.

Planned Parenthood officials met with the media Monday morning to talk about the findings of their audit, which covers high schools in 22 districts and three counties. Click here for a breakdown of district comparisons.

The audit is centered on compliance with Senate Bill 71, a California law that outlines comprehensive sex education in schools, introduced in 2004. Schools are not mandated to introduce sex ed to students, but if they do, they must conform to the education code.

“The issue really is about compliance with the law,” said Christine Lyon, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of external affairs. “It’s not about (Planned Parenthood’s) values.”

In the audit, districts were graded on education code requirements such as not promoting religious doctrine and whether they provided students with skills for responsible decision making. All of the schools evaluated did well in both of those categories, but fell short on others, such as teaching methods to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. None of the districts fully complied on teaching the safety and effectiveness of FDA-approved contraceptives.

“That is shocking,” Lyon said.

No textbook in use complies with the education code on sex education, making it impossible to follow code with books alone. Other supplemental material would have to be used, and obtaining those materials has been an ongoing process for Planned Parenthood.

Because the audit was based only on the materials given to the organization, Santa Barbara, and the other districts, are likely to improve their scores as more material is submitted for review. 

Santa Barbara School District Superintendent Brian Sarvis said Monday he had heard that the district had scored lower than others.

“We will plan to take a look at their data and, after studying it, if we feel that we are providing inadequate instruction or lacking in any area, we will rectify whatever the deficiencies are,” he told Noozhawk.

A similar audit was done in Orange and San Bernardino counties several years ago, and a similar methodology was used, rating districts on a 100-point scale. The group went further than Orange County and audited the school board policies as well as curriculum. Most of the districts have a board policy compliant with the state code, but what actually gets taught is a different matter.

“Passing a policy in a board meeting is often disconnected from what happens in the classroom,” said Nancy Harter, a former school board member who works on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Lyon said that 78 percent of parents the organization has polled want comprehensive sex education in schools, not just abstinence-only teaching. She said the audit also functions as a community service to parents and allows them to see whether their expectations are being met. Lyon said some of the parents the group has talked with think that approach is already taking place in the classroom, but “sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.”

Brianna Eardley-Pryor, Planned Parenthood’s director of public Affairs, explained the methodology behind the audit to reporters Monday. A group of Planned Parenthood staff and volunteers reached out to the schools, beginning a time-consuming process of getting the materials from the various districts.

“We did our best to give the districts the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “This was not meant to be a punitive process.”

Planned Parenthood is working to get on the agenda of a meeting of superintendents from Santa Barbara County. Continuing the conversation, in front of school boards and with parents, is a goal.

“This is about kids getting the information that they need,” Lyon said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.