OUSD weighs its words, seeks balance between state sex-ed curriculum and stated parent complaints
By Tina Richards
Orange Unified parents continue to express their concerns about the district’s response to California State mandates to include lessons on sexual orientation, sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity and expression in sex education courses.
The latest round of unease was vocalized at the Aug. 16 school board meeting, when trustees were preparing to approve district policy updates reflecting new state and federal laws. Such updates occur periodically, usually without fanfare.
This time, a half-dozen public speakers took issue with language included in the policy sections on bullying, non-discrimination and hate behavior. Specifically, the word “perceived.” The bullying section referred to “intimidation or harassment based on actual or perceived immigration status, religious beliefs and customs.” The non-discrimination policy was based on a student’s “actual race or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Likewise, hate-motivated behavior was described as “hostility toward another person’s real or perceived ethnicity, national origin, immigrant status, sex, gender, disability or any other physical or cultural characteristic.”
In a word
“What does ‘perceived’ mean?” a school crossing guard asked. “I’m offended by ‘perceived race.’ It belittles the civil rights movement. You can’t be black one day and white the next just because that’s how you perceive yourself. Race, ethnicity or gender is not based on perception.”
A youth pastor also questioned “perceived,” suggesting that school children could be confused by the inexactness offered by the word, and that labels are not really necessary anyway. “Respect is a two-way street,” he said, “even if not submitting to politically correct ideas.”
The public discussion on the topic expanded to include concerns about the state’s proposed sex education curriculum, specifically a program called “Teen Talk” that many parents find too explicit for preteens and young high schoolers. The district has already assured parents that it is not using “Teen Talk,” and has modified the state program to reflect community sensibilities. Parents are invited to review the material, and may opt out if they choose.
Still, many parents oppose the content as it relates to sexually transmitted disease and gender identity. Some claim that it is medically inaccurate, encourages young people to prematurely explore their sexuality, and offers confusing definitions of gender. “You can be a boy today and a girl tomorrow; you can be both, you can be neither,” one speaker said of the curriculum’s focus.
“The child will be taught things we don’t even discuss at home,” said a youth chaplain.
“The curriculum discusses differences,” another said, “but it does not address equality. I’m appalled by it. Kids are not social experiments.”
A word to the wise
Many of the public speakers were the same ones who had appeared at the May board meeting to oppose the district’s announced kickoff of the new sex education program, slated for June. The board subsequently voted to delay it.
Trustee Brenda Lebsack agreed with the points made by constituents at this, and previous, meetings. “Some of this sounds insane,” she said, and asked for a definition of the “gender expansion” the state is telling school districts to teach. “Can we narrow this down?” she asked. “Can we say that gender is not unlimited?” She also asked for a definition of “perceived,” and motioned that the language in those particular policy sections be reviewed by an attorney before the board voted on them.
Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen noted that some of the language Lebsack was objecting to was not actually in the board policy. “I’m just concerned with the language suggesting that gender is something that can be infinite,” Lebsack confirmed.
Kathy Moffat agreed that “enlightenment on what ‘perceived’ means” would be helpful. “It might be referring to the perception of the onlooker,” she suggested, “not the individual.”
The board agreed to pull the policy sections on bullying, non-discrimination and hate behavior, before approving the rest of the updated material. Those sections will be readdressed at a future board meeting.