News

Sex education to continue this year in Palo Alto schools

Some seventh-grade teachers to assume instruction

The Palo Alto school district will continue to teach a controversial sex-education curriculum this year, with some slight changes to content and a commitment to communicate more transparently with parents.

The curriculum, which has long been taught in the high schools but was added last year for fifth- and-seventh graders to comply with a new state law, sparked outcry among some parents last year. They argued that the content was age inappropriate for middle schoolers and encouraged rather than preventing risky behaviors, such as underage drinking and sex. They also criticized the district's adoption process as lacking transparency and parent involvement.

The California Healthy Youth Act requires school districts to deliver comprehensive sexual health education, covering topics like reproductive health and abstinence as well as gender identity, social norms and body image, at least once in middle school and once in high school. Palo Alto Unified contracted with Redwood City nonprofit Health Connected, which has for several years trained the high schools' Living Skills teachers as well as district nurses in sexual health education, to provide the mandated instruction to seventh-graders.

This year, trained Health Connected instructors will again teach sexual health to fifth- and seventh-graders in a two-week session. At the middle schools, however, the nonprofit will start to train district teachers so they can take over the instruction.

First-year seventh-grade science teachers will observe the Health Connected educators, while teachers in their second year or later will be trained on the curriculum so they can teach it themselves. (Last year, sexual health educators employed by the nonprofit taught the curriculum, with students' regular teachers present in the classroom.)

Though Health Connected's intention was to shift instruction to district teachers, the change was also made in response to survey results that indicated a majority of middle school faculty prefer teaching sexual health themselves, said Executive Director Abi Karlin-Resnick. Having an outside presenter come into a classroom for a short period of time makes it difficult to "establish rapport" with students, one teacher said on the survey, and they are less familiar with students' backgrounds.

Health Connected also changed and updated some of its curriculum for this year as part of an annual revision the organization does every summer, Karlin-Resnick said. Palo Alto parent concerns did not drive any significant changes, she said, but informed their thinking about how to frame different lessons.

One lesson that caused particular consternation among Palo Alto parents, for example — called "Am I Really Ready?" that included a checklist for students to go through to consider when they would be ready to have sex — has been slightly edited. Health Connected replaced the word "orgasm" with "it felt good" in different scenarios in the lesson.

This is "not because we're afraid of the word orgasm but in that context, it wasn't making the message of the scenario any clearer," she said.

Health Connected is "still being very consistent with the content we're delivering … but delivering it in a slightly different way that helps parents understand the broader messages without zoning in on specific words that maybe were distracting," Karlin-Resnick said.

At the suggestion of Palo Alto teachers, Health Connected also made this year's lessons more inquiry-driven to align with the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

Both Health Connected and the school district are taking steps this year to address criticisms about communication and transparency. Health Connected will provide its course materials to the school district in the next few weeks so they will be available for parents to view at every school and at the district office.

Each school will host an informational session on the curriculum at least a month before instruction begins and send notification letters home to parents. The letters will be translated into Mandarin, Spanish and Korean.

The district will offer lesson-specific opt-out forms up to the day of each lesson. Last year, 3.8 percent, or 78 of 2,052 elementary and middle school students in the classes that received instruction in Palo Alto Unified, opted out, according to a report from Health Connected. This is higher than the average rate Health Connected sees at all the schools it serves, but is typical in the first year "as parents get familiar and comfortable with the content and implementation process," the report states.

The district also added a sexual health education page to its website with more information and resources.

A district survey indicates last year's curriculum had a significant impact on students. Just under 80 percent of fifth-graders who participated said they felt more comfortable with their body and the "changes that may be happening" after the lessons, and 71 percent said they felt more comfortable going to a parent or trusted adult with any questions they might have. After the lessons, 90 percent of fifth-graders said they would tell a friend to stop making fun of a person because of how they look.

Similarly, there was an increase in the number of seventh-graders who said they can talk with their parents or a trusted adult about sexual health — 71 percent before the curriculum and 89 percent afterwards. Almost all seventh-graders said after the program that they would tell a friend to stop if they were making fun of someone for being gay or transgender.

In response to the question, "What would you do differently after participating in this program?" seventh-graders said they would delay sexual activity, use safer sex practices in the future, be more aware of different sexual orientations and gender identities and communicate with parents, peers and partners.

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Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2017 at 6:31 pm

Middle-school aged children should be able to comprehend gender diversity and I have no problem with its inclusion as subject material.

On the other hand, exposing and educating young children on transgender identities is just plain irresponsible from the standpoint of creating unnecessary fear, apprehension and potential misunderstanding of the topic.


36 people like this
Posted by Jamie Barnett
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 24, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Re: Sex education to continue this year in Palo Alto schools, it's a comprehensive story - thank you! I think the most interesting part - the data from the post-program survey - comes at the end, though, and that's a shame because some people will miss it. That's where the article talks about an 18 percentage point increase in students feeling more comfortable talking to their parents or trusted adult about sex after the program. That's also the part where students said they'd delay sex and practice safer sex when they are ready after the program.

It's flabbergasting to me that the parents who signed the "Sex Seduction" petition trying to dismantle our sex ed wrote things like "it will teach kids to be gay" and "it will seduce our kids." For heaven's sake, people, look at the mountains of evidence-based research linking comprehensive sex ed to a multitude of benefits, including fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer STIs, fewer assaults, healthier relationships, and more. And, most importantly, read the report, especially the student comments such as the ones below:

"l would do more to prevent pregnancy than I would have if I didn’t take this class.”
“Now knowing the likelihood of contracting an infection...I’ll be a lot more careful…”
“My friends and I bonded over this.”
“I will now be sure to stick up for myself.”
“I will talk to my parents more.”
“I will be more respectful of transgender and gay students.”
“I will make sure to have consent before sex and be aware of the consequences.”

Isn't this what we want for our kids?


14 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 24, 2017 at 7:21 pm

What I want my kids to know, what I will teach them and what I want the schools to support me in teaching them is that sex involves relationships and emotions as opposed to peer pressure and hormones. That a decision to participate in sexual activity should be made well before the activity takes place. That it is OK to say no to sex, that it isn't a sign of love, commitment or maturity, and that "everyone" isn't doing it. I would like the idea of "everyone in high school goes to parties where there will be alcohol and sex" to be altered to "there will be opportunities for parties where there may be alcohol and sex, but you don't need to attend these parties if you don't want to".

I want the message to be made clear that there are a lot of high school students who don't have sex and don't drink alcohol and that is perfectly OK. I don't want my kids to get a message that if they don't want to indulge in alcohol or sexual activity that they are in the minority or that there is something wrong with them.

If the schools can't support parental guidance on what is appropriate for many of the students who are not ready for the pressures of peer pressure in this respect, then they are just as guilty as peers for promoting promiscuity in our schools.


20 people like this
Posted by SupportTransYouth
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 24, 2017 at 10:29 pm

Dear Concerned Parent,

We have (amazing & courageous) transgender middle school and elementary school students here in Palo Alto. *Not* teaching about diverse gender identities is what breeds misunderstanding and fear.


15 people like this
Posted by Jon De Feo
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2017 at 8:21 am

I agree with everything Jamie Barnett wrote about the sex education curriculum - thank you for the thoughtful post!

In addition, if you read any study (including the link to a Harvard Business Review study below), LGBTQ adults who are "out" (i.e. live freely open lives at work), are far more productive, have less mental stress, and are much more likely to thrive at work and/or receive promotions.

Honestly, if you believe your kids haven't been talking about sex, straight or LGBTQ adults they see in their lives - you are not paying attention. You haven't ridden in a car with them, eavesdropped on their conversations, or observed them in the "wild."

Why not treat them like the adults they are becoming? Give them the facts as they ARE, not what they HEAR at the lunch table from other 12-13 year olds???

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Pentacostal Minister
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2017 at 11:57 am

(1) The problem of unwanted pregnancies and STDs should be emphasized in these classes as the avoidance of having children out of wedlock and the control of sexually-transmitted diseases is paramount to the well-being of our children.

(2) Tolerance towards those who are different in their gender and sexual 'predispositions' should also be emphasized but certain aberrational practices and lifestyles should not be encouraged.

(3) Parents should take an active part in this discussion as well.

(4) The LGBTQ community is simply a part of everyday life and no one should be ashamed of who they are.








4 people like this
Posted by TransAmerica
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 26, 2017 at 11:41 am

I recently had to accompany my 6 year-old daughter to a 'universal' restroom facility where she encountered an individual who obviously looked like a man but was dressed as a woman.

How do you explain this to a young child? While I have no issue with transgender restroom facilities, they should be single-use facilities where the potential for these kinds of interactions are limited.

A single restroom/locked door = no problem. A group restroom = no way, Jose.




6 people like this
Posted by Realistic Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2017 at 3:56 pm

@ Jamie: Yes! Totally agree!

@ Parent: "What I want my kids to know, what I will teach them and what I want the schools to support me in teaching them is that sex involves relationships and emotions as opposed to peer pressure and hormones."

I agree that parents should instill their own family values. It's admirable to teach that sex involves relationships and emotions. However, any parent who believes that they can keep their children in a bubble, immune to peer pressure and hormones, is seriously delusional. As any child development expert will attest, our children/teen's peers (and hormones) become the most influential part of their life once they reach adolescence. That's a proven fact. The key is to provide our kids/teens with information that empowers them through these tumultuous years driven by peer pressure and powerful hormones.

The reason this sex ed program is state law, repeat state law, is because children need facts and information to make informed, educated, healthy decisions. Keeping kids ignorant is dangerous and leads to poor decision making (as Jamie states, there are mountains of research behind this). As stated in this article, kids themselves are the first to say how much they appreciate adults who treat them with respect and provide important information (the article references students who said they'd delay sex and practice safer sex when they are ready after the program). The PAUSD sex ed programs have complemented conversations we were already having with our own children at home and opened up very valuable family discussions. Parents would be wise to accept the reality that kids won't live in their family bubble forever. Embrace the fabulous resources that our students are so lucky to have in Palo Alto schools.


4 people like this
Posted by J. Zhang
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 26, 2017 at 4:10 pm

I do not want my son dressing up as girl or daughter looking like man. Middle school is for high school preparation. Not for drinking and sex.

If teacher say it is OK for boy to be girl and to drink beer, I will have problem with school district.


7 people like this
Posted by PaloAltoNat
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 26, 2017 at 4:53 pm

J Zhang, you wrote that, "If teacher say it is OK for boy to be girl[...], I will have problem with school district." In that case, you are welcome to send your kids to a private school or move to a different district.


8 people like this
Posted by Keep an Open Mind
a resident of Egan Middle School (Los Altos)
on Aug 26, 2017 at 5:59 pm

>>>J Zhang, you wrote that, "If teacher say it is OK for boy to be girl[...], I will have problem with school district." In that case, you are welcome to send your kids to a private school or move to a different district.

AGREED. A narrow mindset is probably why we have so many varied problems/issues/conflicts these days.

J Zhang...America (ideally) is a country that accepts and welcomes diversity. If my son chose to address and convert to a different gender, I would be troubled to a certain extent. But after the fog cleared, he is still my son (or newly emerging daughter) and nothing changes if you are a truly loving and caring parent.

Look up the words 'unconditional love'. Then get back to us.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2017 at 6:08 pm

@Keep an Open Mind - I guess your open mind doesn't include the views of J Zhang. While I agree generally with @PaloAltoNat that Zhang's desires probably cannot be met in the California public schools, that doesn't mean they are illegitimate; if they have a problem with the school district, that's ok.

You may be a fine person, I don't know, but lecturing Zhang about "America" and how to parent seems arrogant and, well, narrow minded.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 26, 2017 at 6:15 pm

To Realistic Parent

I think you completely misunderstand me and perhaps didn't read all my post.

I want the schools to teach my kids sex ed. I want to teach sex values to my kids. Of course I know that peer pressure will teach them things too. I can teach my values. The school sex class can teach them facts. Who knows exactly what the peer pressure may teach them, but I value that too. It is important for them to hear what their peers tell them, but it is also important for them to understand that what they hear from their peers may or may not be true and for them to understand that what they hear from a peer is from someone who is not any more mature in years than they are.

I believe sex ed is a 3 legged stool and to balance each of the three legs must carry only part of the load. What parents teach are the important values that usually experience and their own value lessons were taught to them. What peers teach is important because it often shows the counter to these values as well as the culture of the time. What the school has to teach is from the perspective of professional data, research, and should be accurate. If the school is teaching that promiscuity has no risks emotionally or physically, then they are showing that they have not done their research properly. I want them to teach the parts of sex ed that my knowledge is not up to date with eg contraception methods, alocohol risks, etc.

I want them to teach that an 8 week fetus has a heartbeat and a 12 week fetus has fingernails. I want them to teach that alcohol is illegal until the age of 21. I want them to teach that anyone over the age of 18 having sex with someone under the age of 18 is illegal even if it is consensual. I want them to learn how to deal with gay and transgender issues. I want them to teach that whatever the laws are today, they may be altered, just like some laws from years ago have been altered.

In other words, yes, I want them to teach what I can't teach because I am not knowledgeable to teach. But I do not want to the schools to teach them promiscuity because they won't admit that there are many, many high school kids not drinking alcohol and not having sex, and that it is quite alright to not drink and to not have sex while still in high school.


8 people like this
Posted by Mother of Transgender Son
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 26, 2017 at 6:35 pm

QUOTE: "You may be a fine person, I don't know, but lecturing Zhang about "America" and how to parent seems arrogant and, well, narrow minded."

Maybe it's just me but Mr. (or Mrs.) Zhang sounds more narrow-minded than Open Mind.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm

@Mother - The unreflective hypocrisy of "open minded" people who say "I support all kinds of beliefs - just not yours!" always mystifies me. They may both be narrow minded, I'm not sure. But "Open Minded" has the additional danger of not realizing his or her blind spot.


Like this comment
Posted by Marisol
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Zhang & Paly Dad = conservatives.

Open Mind & Transgender Mom = liberals.

Neither group is progressive.


4 people like this
Posted by retired Colonel USAF
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Aug 26, 2017 at 7:00 pm

School curriculum aside, I have no issue with transgender individuals other than taxpayers should not be stuck with the bill (e.g. prisoners, military personnel et al) for cosmetic surgery. And neither should major insurance companies as it makes our premiums go up for specialized services not physically health related.

Do it on your own time and monetary resources.


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2017 at 7:13 pm

@marisol, I'm more a pragmatic moderate, though around here that sometimes gets called conservative (or worse!). But what's a "progressive" in your book?


Like this comment
Posted by Marisol
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2017 at 7:28 pm

>>But what's a "progressive" in your book?

Someone who strives to move forward and isn't easily labeled one way or the other. My American heroes are Robert la Folette and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Theodore Roosevelt was considered a progressive but he could be somewhat 'narrow-minded' at times.

All of the politicians today who call themselves progressives are phonies and self-serving individuals.




1 person likes this
Posted by Marisol
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2017 at 7:35 pm

A closing note...

The overall lack of bi-partisanship (aka working together to get things done) clearly indicates that no one in Congress is progressive. Everyone is clinging to their petty dogma and delusions.


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2017 at 7:46 pm

So kind of a capital "P" progressive - Fighting Bob la Folette, etc. That's an interesting steam of American political thought.


2 people like this
Posted by Curious/student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 26, 2017 at 10:56 pm

What the difference between being narrow-minded and having strong, unshifting convictions?


Like this comment
Posted by Stanford Professor
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 27, 2017 at 11:37 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2017 at 8:46 pm

The title of this article is a bit misleading. Of course sex education continues. The debate was about the curriculum, not about whether sex education should continue or not.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2017 at 9:00 pm

@Marisol, what is "progressive"? I never understood this word. What is your definition? (Seriously, I am real curious).

Btw, on this sex ed topic, I felt it's so "reversed" compared with what's going on with other subjects in American public schools. For example, math, the public schools are teaching the minimum set of Math knowledge to the students (via Common Core or whatever). But in sex ed, it seems the schools are trying to teach the maximum knowledge, why? Note that not all students are developing in the same rate physically.


8 people like this
Posted by JLS Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 27, 2017 at 9:16 pm

Strange click-bait, made-up article. Sex ed - inclusive, medically accurate, comprehensive, etc. - is mandated in California. Plus sex-ed wasn't even on the board agenda for discussion and the district had no plan to consider changes to its curriculum, must less whether to "continue sex ed."

The real issue last year was whether parents could have any input into what state-approved curriculum provider the district used. The district didn't bother to ask them (violating its own policies), and isn't asking again. Oh well.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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