Statement of support for Health Connected in Palo Alto middle schools

(The following statement was shared at the PAUSD school board meeting in April, 2017)

In 7th grade at Jordan, my daughter was waiting to be picked up from school when she overheard a group of boys discussing which girl they’d most like to rape. Not date, not kiss, not make out with, not even have sex with. Rape.

We need to take our heads out of the sand and stop with this mythology that somehow, as a privileged community, our kids are less susceptible to or influenced by the culture at large. If we dismiss nationwide statistics as somehow not applicable to our community, if we ignore surveys result of our own community as somehow not applicable to our particular children, we are kidding ourselves and doing our children no favors.

As somebody who has previously worked in domestic violence, I cannot stress enough the importance of going beyond a narrow focus on the scientific or “biological” in these discussions. Sex education must not ignore the larger cultural forces and power dynamics that shape decision making in intimate relationships.

All students, regardless of whether it makes some in our community uncomfortable, have the right to sex education that is non-judgmental and inclusive of all sexual orientations. This is not only the right thing to do but is mandated by California law.

In the past week, parents have collected over 1500 signatures to protest the Health Connected curriculum which they describe as “sex seduction not sex education”. This characterization would be laughable if it wasn’t so misleading.

I am very disappointed to learn that the district has removed the real world scenarios from the curriculum and hope that this is not the beginning of a watering down of sex ed in Palo Alto in a way that may satisfy some parents but will fail all our students.

Who we are empowering if we decide to roll back our sex education program to something less comprehensive? Where will our children get their information from? If your child has access to the internet and a mobile device of any kind I think we can all be pretty sure of the answer to both those questions.

Some say that we should have these conversations but 7th grade is too early. I say that the sooner the better. Let’s start the conversations about respect and consent, about gender roles and stereotypes, about boundaries and the right to bodily autonomy in kindergarten not 5th grade. The more time our children have had to process the information, to think critically about messages they are receiving, to have had discussions in safe and scaffolded environments with sex education professionals, to have thought through scenarios and how to respond the better prepared and protected they will be.

Please continue to be leaders in providing our students with one of the most highly rated programs in California for sex education.

As far as I know, there is no other area of study in Palo Alto schools where parents are advocating that we provide our students with less information, less rigor, less education.