Parents DO have a say in what, whether, and how public schools teach THEIR CHILDREN about sex.
Parents of children in California public schools have these rights:
• To be notified about planned sexual education instruction
• To review those materials in advance of the instruction taking place
• To “opt-out” or excuse their child from attending — in part or all — sex and HIV-prevention education programs
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
In 2015, the California legislature enacted the California Healthy Youth Act (Assembly Bill 329) that revised and reorganized the state’s sexual health education. Since January 1, 2016, this law requires public school districts to ensure that all pupils in grades seven to twelve, inclusive, receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education.
The law requires that sexual education instruction and HIV prevention education include information about abstinence as the only sure-fire way to avoid STDs and pregnancy. It also requires the instruction include information about abortion, STDs and same-sex relationships and gender issues.
The law does not require sex ed in grades K-6, but school districts may opt to offer it, and many do.
Under the California Healthy Youth Act, the school must inform parents a minimum of 14 days in advance about planned sexual education and HIV prevention instruction. Parents have the right to review the materials the school uses.
Parents also have the right to excuse their children from some or all of any instruction discussing human reproductive organs. Parents also have the right to excuse their children from tests, questionnaires and surveys relating to sex. To excuse a child, a parent must state his or her request in writing to the school district.
Parents should check if their child’s school district has a form letter for them to use. If not, here are sample letters for parents to send to schools to review materials, or to opt their child out of all or part of the instruction:
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT FOR CATHOLICS TO KNOW?
The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children. “Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children..” (Article V Charter of the Rights of the Family) As Catholics, we take our vocations as the primary teachers of our children seriously. While public school systems can teach how sexuality works, we cannot expect the public school systems to teach sexuality in an integrated way that is consistent with the teachings of the Church. The CA Healthy Youth Act itself says: “The Legislature recognizes that while parents and guardians overwhelmingly support medically accurate, comprehensive sex education, parents and guardians have the ultimate responsibility for imparting values regarding human sexuality to their children.”
WHAT CAN I DO?
Research and discern how you will talk to your kids about sex
The Church urges parents to discuss sex with their children. In fact, The Pontifical Council for the Family exhorts parents that, “among the many difficulties parents encounter today, despite different social contexts, one certainly stands out: giving children an adequate preparation for adult life, particularly with regard to education in the true meaning of sexuality.” (Introduction, The Truth and Meaning of Sexuality). We have compiled a list of resources below that will help you talk to your kids about sex in a responsible manner that is also consistent with the teachings of the Church. Talk to your children in a nonjudgmental, non-threatening way about what they are learning at Church and at school.
Educate yourself on California law and the policies in your local school district
Using the information given here and further through the links provided, familiarize yourself with the issues and concerns surrounding the CA law.
Contact your child’s school and ask what curriculum is currently being used with regards to the CA Health Youth Act (and ask for a copy of the materials). Ask how the school meets requirements that schools notify parents and guardians about the planned instruction, allow parents and guardians to review materials in advance of the instruction, and permit them to excuse their children from participation in all or part of the sexual health education, HIV prevention education, and assessments related to that education.
You can also contact your local school board/district and ask how they are interpreting and implementing the California Healthy Youth Act and ask what their policies are with regards to Act requirements that schools notify parents and guardians about the planned instruction, allow parents and guardians to review materials in advance of the instruction, and permit them to excuse their children from participation in all or part of the sexual health education, HIV prevention education, and assessments related to that education. For more details and talking points/questions to ask local school boards, see What You Need to Know about the CA Healthy Youth Act.
Use an opt-out letter
As stated above, parents have the right to review sex-education material prior to instruction taking place. Parents should check if their child’s school district has a form letter for them to use. If you find that your child’s school is using curriculum that you find objectionable, you may have your child opt-out by submitting a written and signed note. For your convenience, we have for your use letters you may print and sign.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE?
Family Education Resources:
- Purely You, available in English and Spanish, provides multimedia tools to guide parents of children approaching puberty and to help parents have conversations with their maturing sons and daughters
- Teaching the Way of Love, which includes a free video series on Fertility Appreciation for parents of 9-12 year olds, and other downloadable resources and materials for purchase in relation to faithful parenting in general at all stages of childhood/adolescence.
- Puberty Program of the Diocese of St. Cloud (MN), a free video series for parents of 5th graders with downloadable handouts, for parents to watch with their child and have discussions.
- LoveEd (geared more for parishes and schools), available in English and Spanish, offers materials that train parents at parishes/schools (or can be used at home) and then facilitates parent/child discussions utilizing videos and dialogue guides for 2 levels (9-11 year olds, 11-14 year olds)
- Family Honor (geared more for parishes and schools), which offers training programs for parents of children at various stages for parishes and schools (or small groups)
Documents from the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (Vatican Document)
The Family in the Modern World (Papal Encyclical)
US Bishops on Love and Sexuality
Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education