Catholics and faith-based organizations from around California plan to gather at the state capitol on January 15 to support a bill that strengthens parental oversight on sex-ed curriculum, particularly for elementary-age students.
Senate Bill 673 will strengthen parts of the California Healthy Youth Act, which was passed in 2015 and went into effect in 2016. The bill clarifies certain elements of the California Healthy Youth Act and adds requirements that will make parental oversight and control over sex-ed curriculum more robust.
Raymond Burnell of the California Catholic Conference, and Maria Martinez-Montes, Respect Life Coordinator with the Office of Human Life and Dignity at the Archdiocese of San Francisco, stopped by A Closer Look™ this week to discuss SB 673, and what Catholics are doing to ensure transparency when it comes to sex education in schools.
Offering background on what the law currently is under the California Healthy Youth Act, Burnell said, “Basically what it says is that in California each school district is required to provide students in grades 7-12 comprehensive sexual health education, and HIV prevention education, from instructors who are trained in the appropriate courses. It does not require it for below grade seven. But school districts may decide whether or not they want to do it as young as kindergarten through grade six. But it’s up to individual school districts.”
The current law says that school districts may decide whether or not to offer sex-ed to elementary school students, but does not require that the curriculum be age appropriate or medically accurate, as it does for older grades. Burnell explained that SB 673 would fix this to change the word ‘may’ to ‘shall.’ While this is more of a technical change, Burnell said that the other changes are more substantive.
“When you look at Senate Bill 673, besides clarifying age appropriateness if they teach below grade seven, what it does do is make sure that the material parents right now have the right and responsibility to review are posted online,” Burnell explained. “That is significant. Because although we have many school districts that do that right now, in fact our biggest ones do post everything online, we have others that do not. And that is extremely difficult, especially for single, poor, working parents to find the time to go downtown to the district office and review the materials. So we believe that this really increases parental oversight, so they can actually see and if they disagree, opt out.”
Dioceses throughout California have been working to inform parents about the rights and responsibilities they have under the current law, and how SB 673 is an opportunity to strengthen and solidify these rights.
“For the past couple of months we’ve been trying to educate people in our parishes and by doing parent seminars,” she explained. “We’ve done them in English and in Spanish, and we’re trying to educate them about the their rights and their responsibilities, and then making them aware that this bill was going to come along and that when the time would come, we would want them to take action.”
The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children, and this is why the bishops are working to strengthen parents rights when it comes to curriculum that is offered in school.
A Closer Look host Sheila Liaugminas said, “Bishops and archbishops are really actively engaged in trying to call out Catholic citizens to know that parents are the first and primary educators of their children, and to know what their children are being taught and encountering in schools, and that they not only have the right but the responsibility to be actively engaged in that process.”
“This is essentially just making sexual health education materials age appropriate,” Sheila said. “But also parental oversight, which is very much the teachings of our Church. Parents have to be involved as the first educators of their children.”