Not even a world-famous 1990s supermodel and entrepreneur could stop the controversial Teen Talk sexuality education curriculum from coming to Santa Barbara schools.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District on Tuesday night approved the curriculum for eighth-graders, in a long hearing with nearly 80 speakers. The vote was 5-0.
Kathy Ireland, a former Sports Illustrated cover model and 1981 graduate of San Marcos High School, said Planned Parenthood came to her driver’s education class and told students they could have an abortion and their parents would never have to know. She said that as a human rights advocate, abortion is a human rights crisis.
“Teen Talk violates Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith,” Ireland said. “It violates science. It oversexualizes our children, and it violates our precious children and it does not deal with the aftermath.”
While several parents voiced support for the Teen Talk program, it sparked an uproar among others who say that it goes too far and promotes anal sex as a form of birth control and encourages abortion, among other concerns.
The district is currently out of compliance with state law and must introduce a new program for eighth-graders to meet new state standards for health education in public schools. Families can opt out of the classes, but even so, some parents believe the curriculum has no place in public schools.
Some parents raised questions about the program, which includes talk of condoms, anal sex and masturbation. The curriculum also provides information on gender roles, relationships and sexuality; provides information about where to obtain reproductive health care; encourages parent and trusted-adult communication; incorporates multiday parent/trusted-adult interview homework assignment for students; and gender inclusive language.
The district is working to comply with AB 329, the California Healthy Youth Act, which was passed in 2016. The program is intended to provide “education regarding human development and sexuality, including education on pregnancy, contraception and sexually transmitted infections,” including HIV.
Some critics of the Teen Talk curriculum wanted the “HEART” program, a more conservative curriculum that, for example, states: “HEART supports marriage by presenting the advantages of marriage over the growing trend of cohabitation. Studies show marriage, for example, is the best protection against poverty, even better than a college education. Marriage, once practiced by all income classes, is becoming a lost dream for many poor women.”
Board members, however, said the Teen Talk program is the best fit for Santa Barbara.
“I support the adoption of the Teen Talk curriculum,” board member Kate Ford said. “I know it’s not perfect, but I also know when it is implemented, our teachers will no doubt modify it to make it stronger and more meaningful.”
Ford said Teen Talk will bring the district into compliance with the law and provide students with essential information “so that they are able to validate their feelings and take control of their lives and their decisions as they approach adulthood.”
She said she is a former drama and English teacher and has taught sex education. She reviewed the Teen Talk curriculum and found it to be “accurate, nonjudgmental and inclusive. It does not promote sex. It does promote conversations between students and parents.”
Board member Jacqueline Reid agreed that it was time.
“It is an absolute priority for this district to support the health and safety and reproductive health of our teens,” Reid said. “We need to provide curriculum that provides safe and transparent information about sexual health, and Teen Talk was brought forward and is compliant with the California Healthy Youth Act.”
At different points in the meeting, the criticisms took on a political tone. Three of the current school board members are running for re-election — Reid, Wendy Sims-Moten and Laura Capps. All three are endorsed by the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party.
Parent and conservative education activist James Fenkner called on the incumbents to reveal whether they promised the party to support Teen Talk in exchange for the endorsement.
“What I would like to ask is for all the board members to share your full and complete answers to all endorsement questionnaires, because anything less kind of smacks of backroom deals with special interest groups,” Fenkner said. “I don’t know if you have answered yes, you support Teen Talk, even when there’s other, more popular, scientific options out there.”
Fenkner said he hoped none of the incumbents board members sold themselves “so cheaply” by exchanging an endorsement for Teen Talk support. He was one of a handful of callers who tried to link the endorsement to support for Teen Talk.
Gail Teton-Landis, chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, spoke and said the Democratic Party questionnaire has about 50 questions and statements to which candidates respond.
“There are no litmus test questions,” Teton-Landis said. “No one has to sign a document or make a pledge in terms of supporting questions or programs addressed in our questionnaire.”
Parent and education activist Jill Rivera also spoke in opposition to Teen Talk.
“From what I understand about Teen Talk, the curriculum is very sexualized,” Rivera said. “I believe we need to protect our kids in this age of growing awareness of sex trafficking and sexual grooming.”
School District to Begin Cohorts
The district will not apply for a waiver to reopen elementary schools at this time, but it will begin cohorts with groups of 14 students or fewer.
The district will work to allow in-class instruction for students with moderate and severe disabilities; homeless and housing insecure; students with mild and moderate disabilities; emergent multilingual; homeless, but housed and foster dhildren/youth; students without connectivity issues; credit-deficient seniors; and students failing core courses, such as English, math, social studies and science.
Enrollment continues to decline, with the district down 323 students since July.