Sex Talk

TUSD board will vote on new comprehensive sex education curriculum

Sex Talk
Will sex ed poison their minds?
Tucson's largest school district may soon introduce changes to their sex education curriculum that some families see as an affront to their cultural and moral values. But supporters of the new material say it could improve the ability of students to make key life choices and better understand their bodies.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, Tucson Unified School District's governing board will vote to accept or deny the updated version of their Family Life Curriculum, a set of instructional lessons first created in 1995 and updated once in 2006.

The curriculum covers personal and physical development, healthy relationships, personal safety and sex and sexuality, among other topics.

The proposed changes caused deep division between those who showed up to two public hearings on the subject. At the second meeting, which was held in the Cholla High School auditorium on Aug. 22, board president Adelita Grijalva asked for audience members to be respectful of opposing viewpoints, after admitting that some speakers at the last meeting had crossed the line. Grijalva said some audience members felt "picked on, ridiculed, threatened, on both sides, whether you're pro the changes or against the changes."

Supporters believe the new material incorporates medically accurate, LGBTQ+-inclusive, age-appropriate lessons into a curriculum that now portrays abstinence before marriage and heterosexual dating and family structures as the sole appropriate life choices.

Opponents argue that these changes go against the personal values of parents in the district, and that the curriculum infringes on a parent's right to educate their child about sex.

Carol Brochin, a TUSD parent, was one of the first to address the board members. A supporter of the curriculum changes, she said the comments made by those opposed to it had violated TUSD's anti-discrimination rule.

"We must make it clear to the board and to the members of the audience tonight, the validity and existence of the gender identity and sexuality of our children is not up for debate," Brochin said. "To do so would be to engage in the discrimination of our own children."

According to materials posted on the district's website, the entire Family Life Curriculum is taught over a two-week period. The program is an optional one; students will not receive the lessons without a parent's signature, which is collected through a district form that provides an overview of the topics that will be discussed.

The curriculum is offered during fourth, fifth and sixth grades, once in seventh or eighth grade, and once during high school. Sex and sexuality are introduced as topics starting in seventh grade. The following is a summary of major topics that will be covered in each grade level.

Fourth Grade: Students will learn about effective decision-making and communication skills and conceptualize self-confidence, assertiveness and consent. Teachers will present decision-making scenarios where students will have to make choices based on their personal values and identify what influence their environment has on them (family, friends, media, etc.). Students will learn different types of physical changes to expect during puberty and understand how hormones impact adolescent growth. They'll learn about human reproductive systems from an anatomical standpoint as well as personal hygiene.

There will be a unit on family dynamics, where students will learn about a variety of family structures including two-parent families, same-sex families, single-parent families, separated families, incarcerated or deported family members, step or blended families, extended families, adopted families, foster families and joint-custody families.

Fifth Grade: Students will learn about hormones in males and females, along with physical changes during puberty and another lesson on the reproductive system. Other lessons will cover decision-making skills, appropriate and inappropriate communication, empathy and body language.

Teachers will talk about the dangers of stereotypes, bullying and cyberbullying. The curriculum states it will teach students about permission, agreement or consent and help them practice refusal skills. There will be a lesson on understanding personal boundaries, sexual harassment and abuse and how to identify sources of help from abuse.

Sixth Grade: Students will have an opportunity to discuss how media influences upon a person's self-perception, including their body image, possessions and life situation. Lessons will cover behavioral traits, skills for building relationships based on mutual respect, trust and caring and how to maintain personal values and autonomy despite belonging to a group.

Students will review their understanding of consent, along with identifying personal risk in specific situations. The curriculum will explain physical, mental, emotional and social changes during puberty, identify similarities and differences in male and female growth patterns and the functions of male and female reproductive systems.

Seventh or Eighth Grade: Students will discuss why teenagers use drugs in social settings, define consent in the context of romantic relationships and learn how to choose behaviors that promote healthy relationships with family, friends and romantic partners. Teachers will talk about commonly used drugs, their effects and the possibilities of impaired judgement on sexual behavior.

There will be lessons on identifying behaviors that may lead to toxic relationships, discussions on the reasons for dating and not dating, and healthy approaches to dating and ending relationships. Students will learn about the role media plays in society and individual lives.

They will discuss the physiological, emotional, and social changes that occur during puberty, the menstrual cycle and its variety of symptoms. There will be a lesson on human reproduction, pregnancy, an explanation of contraceptive methods, abstinence and myths and facts about sexual intercourse.

Arizona state law requires all school districts to identify abstinence/sexual risk avoidance as the only 100 percent effective method for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Students will spend time learning about the causes, transmission and symptoms of STIs and the importance of seeking medical attention for them.

High School: High school students will receive review lessons about puberty, sexual intercourse, abstinence, STIs, common drugs, impaired judgement, consent, refusal strategies and characteristics of healthy and toxic relationships.

They will learn more about Arizona laws as it relates to the responsibilities and rights of parenting, the financial responsibilities of parenting and the Arizona state statute that identifies childbirth and adoption as preferred options to abortion. Students will gain an understanding of how media impacts their understanding of sex and human sexuality.

There will be a lesson on sexual harassment, abuse and rape. Teachers will help students identify common myths about rape and understand ways to maintain personal safety. The curriculum emphasizes rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse as crimes of violence and not just sexual acts.

In part with a review lesson about human anatomy, teachers will facilitate discussions on the definitions and differences between biological sex and gender identity. Students will learn about definitions and concepts relating to gender expression, sexual orientation and sexual identities, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, asexual and more. ■

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