[Ventura County] Grand jury chides districts for lack of sex ed awareness

School districts throughout the county need to do a better job of explaining their sex education programs and opt-out policies to parents, a Ventura County grand jury found.

The volunteer panel evaluated how 18 local school districts—including Conejo Valley, Moorpark, Oak Park, Simi Valley and Pleasant Valley—implemented the California Healthy Youth Act, a 2016 law that outlines how students in grades seven to 12 should receive comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education. The grand jury’s review took place over the course of several months earlier this year.

The Healthy Youth Act states that school districts shall notify the parent or guardian of each pupil about any instruction to be given as part of the curriculum, and about any research surveys that may be conducted regarding student health behaviors. The notice must be given at the beginning of each school year or, for students who enroll after that date, at the time of the student’s enrollment.

The grand jury found that all but one district—Conejo Valley Unified—created new policies to adhere to the 2016 law. But most of those that did make changes did not notify parents about them, the grand jury said.

“These districts did not provide information to parents or guardians that no penalty would be imposed on their children if they opted out of the sex education curriculum or related surveys,” the grand jury report read. “Most did not provide information that an alternative curriculum would be provided to students who opted out.”

Some districts, including Conejo Valley and Moorpark unified, told parents that students who are excused from the curriculum will be provided an “alternative educational activity.” Only Mupu Elementary School District in Santa Paula explicitly informed guardians that kids could be excused from sex education instruction, the report states.

The grand jury also found that only five of the 18 school districts told parents that students excused from the curriculum will not face academic penalties. Four out of the 18 districts included information in their handbooks about parents’ rights to review the classroom material at district offices or schools.

“The conclusion that we drew was that there was probably not sufficient notice and opportunity given to people in the public to be able to opt their children out of sex education,” a representative from the grand jury said. “None of them (the districts) provided a separate form that a parent could use and fill out and opt their child out.”

Additionally, 15 districts did not provide notice to parents or guardians that they had the right to opt out their children from only part of the sex-education curriculum while participating in other parts.

To make the policies clearer, the grand jury recommended that school districts provide parents with notices and detailed explanations about the sex education curriculum.

The grand jury also hopes districts will tell parents they can opt out from parts of the instruction and that students will not face academic penalties if they participate in an “alternative educational curriculum.”

Most school districts have spent the summer break updating their parent handbooks and policies to meet the recommendations of the grand jury. A few districts have submitted formal responses to the grand jury, a representative from the volunteer panel said.

The Ventura County Office of Education, for example, provided documents about the lessons it teaches students from seventh to 12th grades that discussed boundaries, staying healthy, hygiene and human reproduction, and other related topics.

Overall, the grand jury’s recommendations are intended to provide more information to parents about sex education curricula in county school districts so they can determine if they want their children to participate in the classes.

“For a parent to make an informed choice, they should be able to see what is being taught,” the grand jury said.

July 25, 2019

Thousand Oaks Acorn

By Christina Cox