A new state law in effect this year requires all California public school students to take sex education beginning in seventh grade.
Parents who don’t want their kids to learn about issues like body image, contraception and HIV awareness and prevention will have to formally opt out by submitting a document to their school or district.
For years, sex education has been optional. If parents wanted their children to take a sexual health class, they had to sign up for the instruction.
The law, called the California Healthy Youth Act, attempts to standardize and update sex education in the state, which also now must include gender identity.
San Francisco Unified has one of the most comprehensive sex education curriculums in the state, covering everything from sexual orientation to abusive relationships.
Health educators in the district say seventh grade is the best time to start teaching students about sexual health.
“Their bodies are developing, and often young people start to develop crushes on other students,” says Christopher Pepper, a San Francisco Unified health teacher. “They’re dealing with effects of hormones in their body, and understanding all those things can be a little bit challenging.”
California is also the first state in the nation where high school students will now learn about affirmative consent, known as “Yes means Yes.”
Developing a more comprehensive sex education curriculum is expected to be challenging in more conservative areas like Clovis Unified, which was found to have violated the state’s pre-existing law on sex education by providing students with inaccurate and biased information about sexual health.
The big question is how the state will monitor school districts, and whether there will be an uptick in families opting out.
Camille Giglio, with the group California Right To Life, says this curriculum goes too far.
“This comes into a whole new category of being forced to listen for six years to one version of so-called sexual health,” Giglio said.
The California State PTA supports the new law, saying students should have medically accurate and unbiased information.