by Greg Burt
A sex-ed transparency bill, authored by Senator Mike Morrell, is heading to the Senate Educa-tion Committee next week, yet its real author is first-time, citizen legislator Denise Pursche. This bay-area mother of three never intended to write a bill when she asked Mt. Diablo Unified School District for the sexuality lessons her elementary school planned to teach her twin 5th graders. But she got frustrated when school administrators would only send her lesson titles and vague curriculum summaries. That wasn’t good enough for Denise. She wanted to see the actual lessons and worksheets to be used in the classroom.
After a month of asking, being sent on detours, and then asking again and again, Denise finally got what she wanted. Once she saw the graphic, age inappropriate content, Denise realized why school personnel tried to hide the curriculum from her. For example, one 5th grade lesson in the Rights, Respect, and Responsibility curriculum by Advocates for Youth titled, “Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy,” have boy and girls, sitting side by side, review a worksheet illustration of a woman’s genitals with her legs spread open. Children color and label each part of the woman’s sexual anatomy as the teacher describes each in detail, including which ones are “very sensitive.”
Denise was appalled, not only at the curriculum’s age inappropriateness, but how she was treated by the school administration. One district employee told her it wasn’t necessary for parents to review the curriculum, even though the law allows it. “We know better than parents what kids are exposed to on social media, in movies, and television programs,” Denise remembered being told by one particular school employee. “Kids are also exposed to more pornography today than ever before. … We understand what students need to know. Parents believe their students are innocent, but we know that students are having sex at earlier and earlier ages.”
Last summer, Denise was invited to attend district meetings along with teachers and principals from other elementary schools in her district. During these meetings teachers said they didn’t think it was a good idea for parents to review the sex education lesson plans because “if parents reviewed the actual lesson plans, they would opt their children out of the lessons.”
“You see, district staffers believe that they know better than parents!” Denise said. “They be-lieve they are the arbiter of what students need to know about sex. They are no longer teaching reproduction, or how a human life begins, but are teaching sexual behavior and sexual pleasure.”
Denise decided to opt her own children out of the sex education lessons, but Denise realized most parents still had no idea what their children were being taught. She couldn’t let it go. There needs to be a change in the law, she thought, so this curriculum is easy for parents to preview and if they choose prevent their kids from being exposed to the content. So Denise turned to her legislators, Senator Steven Glazer and Assemblyman Tim Grayson, for a solution. Legislative staff from these offices encouraged Denise to write her own legislative proposal. “Can I do that?” Denise asking a staffer.
After doing endless hours of extensive research, getting the advice of the Department of Edu-cation, public policy organizations (including the California Family Council), hand delivering and sending her proposal to legislators throughout the capitol, and then making revisions, Denise finally found an author. Sadly it wasn’t one of her own legislators. Despite getting encouragement from their offices, they were not interested in authoring or co-authoring her sex-ed transparency bill. But Senator Mike Morrell from Rancho Cucamonga and his staff were eager to support Denise’s effort and agreed to author SB 673.
Denise’s bill amends the California Healthy Youth Act, AB 329 by doing the following:
• Require school districts that teach elementary-age comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention curriculum to make the materials available to parents online.
• Restore the right of parents of elementary-age students (TK-6th grade) to opt their children in to comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education courses, rather than having to opt-out.
• Requires the district to provide medically accurate and age appropriate sex education ma-terial for elementary age children.
SB 673 is being co-sponsored by Senators Bates, Chang, Grove, Jones, Nielsen, and Stone. The bill will be heard in the Senate Education Committee next Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 9 a.m.