Protect Our Kids: Sex Education & Our Rights as Parents
Maria Mont-Martinez, Respect Life Coordinator
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.
The California Catholic Conference on July 31, 2019 issued updated guidelines on the law which can be accessed here.
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.
What can I do?
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 that will help you talk to your kids about sex in a responsible manner that is also consistent with the teachings of the Church.
Educate yourself on California law
There are two California laws that should be understood by all concerned Catholic parents. First is the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, also known as the FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48) that was passed in 2011 and became effective in 2012. This legislation amended the California Education Code for K-12 public schools requiring that social studies instruction/materials include the role and contributions of LGBT Americans. The new law also stated that public schools were prohibited from presenting instruction/materials that promote a discriminatory bias on the basis of sexual orientation. Under the law, while instruction in history and social science should include the contributions of specific groups, it is up to local school districts to determine how the instructional content is included and what textbooks are used. In other words, it falls to the teacher and the local school and district administration to determine how the content is covered and at which grade level(s). Parents’ rights regarding their children’s education in this area is not entirely clear. This is what the California Catholic Conference has to say: Confusion Continues to Reign Regarding California’s FAIR Act .
Secondly, in 2015, the Legislature enacted the California Healthy Youth Act (Assembly Bill 329) that revised and reorganized sexual health education. Since January 1, 2016, this law requires public school districts ensure that all pupils in grades seven to twelve receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education. Although the Healthy Youth Act outlines a variety of content requirements for what districts must include in their programs, it is also clear that certain rights of parents are to be respected in the way that the programs are carried out. These parental rights include the right to be notified about the planned instruction and the right to review those materials in advance of the instruction taking place. And most importantly, there is the right to “opt out” and excuse their child from attending in part or all sex and HIV-prevention education programs. This is what the California Catholic Conference has to say: 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.
Voice your concerns on social media.
Post this in your church bulletin
Ask your pastor to put this graphic in your parish’s Sunday bulletin.
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Catholic Answers; The Catholic Answers Back to School Primer pdf
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
FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO (paragraphs 36-40 ON THE ROLE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY IN THE MODERN WORLD)
A guide to sensitive Topics for Parents
Other Ecumenical Faith Groups
State Law and Regulations
Public School Curriculums
California Catholic Conference Legislative Network Sign-up
Find your local California school contact information
What You Need to Know about the CA Healthy Youth Act
Confusion Continues to Reign Regarding California’s FAIR Act
Rights and Responsabilities of Parents