Bret Harte sex education controversy

On Sept. 27, a crowd of Bret Harte Middle School (BHMS) parents flocked to the monthly San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) board meeting to express their concerns with the newly proposed sex education curriculum.

“All of us do believe that sex education is extremely important for kids especially today when they have so much information at their fingertips,” an anonymous parent of a child in Bret Harte said at the meeting. She and several other parents were lined up at the podium, each given a two-minute window to deliver their grievances to the district board about their child’s exposure to sex education.  

Former Principal and designer of the new curriculum Brad Craycroft provide the district’s perspective on the matter. Partnered with Planned Parenthood, SJUSD intends to provide protection to students from “sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy” in order to promote “healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation… [and] positive relationships and behaviors.”

The modified curriculum features topics and themes that many of the parents deemed “explicit and even suggestive.” A parent referenced the green light, yellow light, red light activity that talked “about anal sex, oral sex, [sex] with or without condoms, [and] having sex with multiple people.” Students were to analyze scenarios of intimate exchanges and place them into green, yellow, or red light behavior categorized by HIV-risk behavior. “They’re talking about grinding bodies together or showering together, yet they give a green signal,” said a parent.

The California Healthy Youth Act which started Jan. 2016 is the law that has compelled many school districts in Calif. including SJUSD to revamp their sex education curriculums. According to Mercury News, the previous curriculum that consisted of only HIV prevention “once in middle school and once in high school” no longer met the standards of the new law because it was not informative enough. A similar situation in the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) happened on March 28, where 150 angered parents protested at the board meeting in Nimitz Elementary School. The proposed CUSD curriculum was not approved after a 2-2 vote, placing the district in a difficult situation: districts failing to meet the requirements of the new law could, like a school district in Fresno, face a $450,000 fine.

The law aims to endow students with extensive information about sexual activity to increase the general awareness and knowledge of the foreign topic. Parents do concede that teaching students in an educational setting at the middle school age would be far better than allowing them to discover it through the internet. However, they draw the line at Bret Harte’s matter-of-fact approach to the topic.

“I felt the tone of the curriculum was giving the message… that sex among teenagers is very common like playing soccer—and if you do it, then these are the things that will help you,” one parent said. Stuck between strict criteria and unsettled parents, the district faces a challenge of drafting a plan that would appease to both sides.

However, the BHMS parents have assured the board that adhering to their requests would not be as difficult as it seems. Rather than demonstrations, “give the information in a fact-based manner and let it be age appropriate,” said one parent. Even though the district is obligated to provide parents with the instructional materials that would be used in class, many parents have still missed the opportunity to view and gauge the instructed content. “I would like to get full access to the curriculum including student workbooks, parent guides scenarios slide set discussion notes any visuals or videos and potentially having a workshop for parents too so they know what their kid is being exposed to and what is missing.”

With the influx of information and accessibility in the modern age, many have perceived sex education—especially the way it is taught—as vital to a child’s understanding of the precautions and purposes of intimate relationships. “Sex comes with a huge responsibility, and any sexual activity they do now will be carried with them for the rest of their lives.”