Parents fight to censor California sex ed

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Parents concerned about their children’s sex education protest ouside of State Senator Connie Leyva’s office. Leyva chairs the Senate Education Committee. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

Sex education isn’t just about putting condoms on bananas anymore.

California school districts are teaching more detailed descriptions of body parts, sexual acts and sexual diversity.

That’s brought a dozen parents outside State Senator Connie Leyva’s office one recent afternoon. She leads the Senate Education Committee, which makes decisions about sex ed in public schools.

Many of those parents share an active disdain for California’s sex education.

One of them is Michelle New. She pulled her 12-year-old daughter out of public school after learning about the curriculum there.

She says it’s not the same lessons she learned when she was in school.

“Sex education taught safety, it taught reproductive, it taught puberty, it did teach condoms and birth control and things like that. But it didn’t go over and beyond sexual beliefs, and this curriculum does,” she says. “You don’t see anything that doesn’t have an agenda. It’s all agenda-driven.”

The new curriculum was passed in 2016 under the Child Healthy Youth Act. It requires that students receive comprehensive sex education at least once in middle school, and once in high school. Parents can opt their kids out. But unless they formally make that request in writing, students are automatically enrolled.

Concern over the curriculum found new life after California approved resources and textbooks in May 2019. So this is the first school year since those recommendations came out.


Stephanie Yates (left) and Michelle New (right) have both pulled their children out of public school and regularly protest the state’s sex education curriculum. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

Stephanie Yates’ son is a freshman in high school this year, but she put him in private school to avoid the curriculum. 

She pulls out one of the books that was originally recommended to teachers, and reads a bookmarked page. “It’s like, do you laugh or cry? This is how bad it is. It says … ‘body fluid blood play.’ Not only that, it says, ‘what is it, and how do you do it?’ ”

She goes on to read detailed, explicit explanations of how to engage in types of manual stimulation and oral sex.

But that’s only one of the pieces that parents are upset about. 

There’s also the new focus on diversity. Teachers are encouraged to use more LGBTQ-inclusive language. Children learn about gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexuality across different schools subjects. Parents can’t opt out of that.

Linda Liu was angry after she discovered one of her son’s assignments. He had drawn several scenes that promoted tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community. She says she discovered that he had been learning about gender identity and expression for a month without her notice.


Linda Liu’s son completed a diversity and inclusion assignment.  Photo by Caleigh Wells.

She says the diversity and inclusion curriculum shouldn’t be taught before puberty: “It’s most important to understand themselves. Too much complicated information to the 10-year-old kid. It’s not age appropriate.”

Parents blame the new focus on diversity and inclusion for some of the more explicit information in sexual education. Since educators are teaching about gay and straight couplings, they’re also explaining more than procreative, vaginal sex. Recommended resources show illustrations of oral and anal sex as well.


Recommended resources for sex education curriculum include this Powerpoint slide demonstrating vaginal, anal and oral sex. Credit: Positive Prevention Plus, courtesy of Michelle New.

But politicians like Leyva disagree with the parents who protest outside her office. She has two adult daughters who went through public school sex education.

“I did not feel that it was not age appropriate. I had the opportunity as a parent to review the material if I went into the school and asked for it, which I believe all parents have that right now. There’s nothing in there that is not age appropriate.”

As for administrators, most declined to comment or did not respond to requests. More than half a dozen school districts were contacted for this story, and none of them agreed to speak.

LAUSD provided a written statement. A spokesperson said, “Before this legislation passed, Los Angeles Unified already had a program in place that met these new requirements. Los Angeles Unified has a long history of providing a comprehensive health curriculum, and has been a model in this work throughout the nation.”

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