California has overhauled its sex education guidance for public school teachers, encouraging them to talk about gender identity with kindergartners and giving advice to help LGBT teenagers navigate relationships and practice safe sex.
LGBT advocates praised the new recommendations for giving such attention to a community that often is left out of sex education policies. But some parents and conservative groups assailed the more than 700-page document as an assault on parental rights, arguing those issues should be taught by parents in the home.
The guidance approved by the California State Board of Education on Wednesday does not require teachers to teach anything. But it is designed to expose them to the latest research and help them make sure students are meeting state standards. It's also influenced by a 2015 state law that made California one of the first states to address LGBT issues as part of sex education.
Much of the pushback has focused not on the framework itself, but on the books it recommends students read. One suggested book for high schoolers is "S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties." It includes descriptions of anal sex, bondage and other sexual activity. Several parents read from the book and held it up so board members could see the pictures, which many described as "obscene."
But Wednesday, the State Board of Education removed that book, and a few others, from the guidance. State Board of Education member Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon said the books had "created panic" and distracted from the framework's goals, including teaching students about consent and sex trafficking.
"It's important to know the board is not trying to ban books. We're not staying that the books are bad," she said. "But the removal will help avoid the misunderstanding that California is mandating the use of these books."
More than 200 people signed up to speak during a public hearing on Wednesday that lasted for several hours. Supporters and opponents mingled together in the lobby of the California Department of Education, where parents handed out snacks to appease their young children while waiting for their number to appear on dry-erase board telling them it was their turn to get one minute of time at the microphone.
Speakers included 16-year-old Phoenix Ali Rajah, a transgender boy who said he is rarely taught information for people like him during sex education classes at his Los Angeles area high school.
"I'm never taught about how to be in a relationship with gay men," he said, adding that the "conversation with sex starts from a different place."
Patricia Reyes traveled more than 400 miles from her home in Southern California to bring her six children to the hearing, all of whom attend or have attended public schools. They included her 4-year-old daughter, Angeline, who held a sign that read: "Protect my innocence and childhood."
"It's just scary what they are going to be teaching. It's pornography," she said. "If this continues, I'm not sending them to school."
The framework tells teachers that students in kindergarten can identify as transgender and offers tips for how to talk about that, adding "the goal is not to cause confusion about the gender of the child but to develop an awareness that other expressions exist."
It gives tips for discussing masturbation with middle-schoolers, including telling them it is not physically harmful, and for discussing puberty with transgender teens that creates "an environment that is inclusive and challenges binary concepts about gender."
Tatyana Dzyubak, an elementary school teacher in the Sacramento area, said she would have a hard time teaching the material. "I shouldn't be teaching that stuff. That's for parents to do," she said.
California's education standards tell school districts what students should know about a particular subject at the end of every grade level. The state's curriculum framework gives teachers ideas on how to do that. The state updated its health education standards in 2008. But because of a budget crisis, state officials delayed giving schools a framework for how to teach them. That changed Wednesday.
"As a mom myself, whether you are ready for your kid to have those questions or not, they have them. And they need medically accurate information," said Cheri Greven, public affairs director with Planned Parenthood of Mar Monte. "Otherwise, who knows what they will find on their own."