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Sex Ed — that’s a hot-button topic if ever there was one, but in a community like District 214, there’s a general consensus that it’s appropriate to teach about reproduction and contraception, as well as topics such as STI risks and avoidance, relationship skills, and the like. Some parents are on-board with their teens having sex, others are willing to consider the instruction a form of “life skills” to be relevant in the future, and those concerned about the nature of the instruction take advantage of the opt-out provisions.
But what parents may not know is that a much more radical new curriculum is headed towards Illinois schools beginning next school year, with final ISBE regulations to be published on August 1st — except for individual school districts which choose to opt out. To date, unlike many neighboring districts, District 214 has neither opted out nor made any statement about its intentions. What’s more, unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of topic where the school board gives its implicit approval behind closed doors without any public discussion.
This curriculum is courtesy of Public Act 102-0522 (Senate Bill 0818), which requires that sex ed be based on the National Sex Education Standards. Specifically, according to the ISBE document on the law, the standards will be “including, but not limited to, all of the National Sex Education Standards.”
These standards are not produced by a government entity nor the result of standardization by school boards across states. They were authored by the private sex ed-advocacy group SIECUS. It is important to understand that many of these standards sound innocuous but the specific jargon being used, when understood with the definitions given by SIECUS and other groups, is much more radical. In addition, a “model curriculum” which had been posted online and has since been removed made clear how some of these statements are to be interpreted.
Here are but a few examples of what’s in the curriculum and why it is harmful:
By the end of second grade, children are expected to be able to define “gender identity.”
By the end of fifth grade, children are expected to learn about/know the following:
- “The potential role of hormone blockers on young people who identify as transgender”‘
- “Sex assigned at birth and gender identity and . . . how they may or may not differ”;
- The definition of “cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, gender expansive, and gender identity”;
- That “gender identity exist[s] along a spectrum”; and
- “The range of ways pregnancy can occur (e.g., IVF, surrogacy).”
By the end of eighth grade:
- “Define sexual identity and explain a range of identities related to sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, two-spirit, asexual, pansexual)”;
- “Define vaginal, oral, and anal sex”;
- Know extensive details on contraception and how to access various types, as well as how to access HIV preventive medications and “why HIV can now be considered a chronic condition.”
And by the end of tenth grade:
- “Explain the state and federal laws related to safe haven, parenting, and sterilization, including their impacts on oppressed communities”;
- “Define reproductive justice and explain its history and how it relates to sexual health.”
Let’s translate some of this.
To teach a second grader about “gender identity” means, in practice, instructing them that, to be a girl, they must “feel like” a girl or to be a boy entails “feeling like” a boy; there are growing numbers of reports of children being given these lessons and concluding that, since they don’t have a deep personal feeling of girl-ness or boy-ness and don’t conform to gender stereotypes, they must not be a girl/boy.
What’s more, curricula which follow this “enlightened” path of treating transgender-ness as just as ordinary and routine as anything else have adopted approaches such as labelling women as “bodies with uteruses” or “menstruators” or even, in the above-referenced pulled-from-the-internet curriculum, rejecting the idea that specific reproductive systems had anything at all to do with being “male” or “female,” even to the point of using drawings saying “Reproductive System 1” and “Reproductive System 2.” This is not evidence-based. This is ideology.
Outside the United States, doctors and scientists are backing away from their prior willingness to promote puberty blockers or label them “reversible.” There is no long-term evidence of the safety (and emerging evidence of risks) of these medications for normally-developing children, as opposed to children experiencing puberty much too soon, and studies have shown that, unlike the usual pattern for children expressing gender confusion, the use of puberty blockers sends children down a path of permanency. It is a terrible idea to suggest this to children, especially at an age when they might be fearful of puberty for reasons that have nothing to do with a deeply-held gender identity.
The reference to “safe haven” laws is also not what you might think. The significance of the reference to “impacts on oppressed communities” is clear when it comes to sterilization; disadvantaged minorities were pushed towards sterilization for eugenic reasons. And likewise, opponents of safe haven laws used their influence to add a requirement that teenagers be instructed on why these laws are actually a bad thing.
And finally, “reproductive justice”: thus far I’ve focused on the specific ways the standards mandate a highly ideological narrative around gender identity. I haven’t even discussed the expansiveness of the standards when it comes to sex and contraception, and the statements regarding teens deciding whether or not to have sex are left vague enough to be up to interpretation, though clearly many proponents of highly-detailed sex ed classes are also proponents of teens having and enjoying sex. But “reproductive justice” is an absolute no-go. Here, after all, is the official definition: “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. In addition, reproductive justice demands sexual autonomy and gender freedom for every human being.” For a teacher to explain what an abortion is, factually, is one thing. Parents can teach their children what their moral beliefs on abortion are at home. But the concept of “reproductive justice” means that the teacher is instructed to tell students that abortion is a positive good, that access to abortion is required as a matter of justice. This is wholly and completely unacceptable. It is no more tolerable for parents to merely opt-out than it would be for schools to add in a religion class requiring profession of Jesus Christ as Personal Savior and claim the practice is acceptable because there is an opt-out available.
What are school districts required to do?
According to various descriptions of the law (see NPR or Capitol News Illinois), schools have two choices, either offer a curriculum which uses these standards, or offer no Sex Ed curriculum at all. An ISBE FAQ on the issue provides more information:
Districts that elect to require comprehensive sexual health education will be required to provide instruction immediately in accordance with the provisions of the Act. . . .
School districts will continue to have discretion over whether they provide sexual health education to students. All classes that teach comprehensive personal health and safety education and comprehensive sexual health education shall satisfy the criteria outlined in the Act. Without contradicting the standards, school districts may choose and adapt personal health and safety and comprehensive sexual health education that is age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, complete, culturally appropriate, inclusive, and trauma-informed that meets the specific needs of their community.
In addition, regardless of any modifications to “meet the specific needs of their community,” the curriculum
May not deliberately withhold health-promoting or life-saving information about culturally appropriate health care and services, including reproductive health services; hormone therapy; and treatments and options approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including, but not limited to, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PeP).
This is vague. This is jargon. But it is clear that this means that any school that offers a Sex Ed curriculum is required by this law to provide information on “reproductive health services” (that is, about how to access abortion) and hormone injections for kids who identify as transgender.
I am seeing reports that some school districts are interpreting the ISBE language as permitting them to keep their existing curriculum, and this seems like wishful thinking to me because of these requirements.
Finally, ISBE places two requirements to help parents:
A school district shall provide individuals, such as parents or guardians, an opportunity to review the scope and sequence of instructional materials that the district is utilizing to teach a class or course in comprehensive personal health and safety education and comprehensive sexual health education.
In addition, a school district shall annually post on its internet website which curriculum is used to provide comprehensive personal health and safety education and comprehensive sexual health education. Contact information, including email addresses, of school personnel who can respond to inquiries regarding course instruction and materials should also be posted.
Parents should know that District 214 has not posted this, stating instead that they will not make decisions about their curriculum until the August 1st ISBE standards release date, and will post this information at that time.
What should parents do?
First, write to the school board. You can even send a message through this website.
Second, attend school board meetings. Information on dates and times is at the district’s website.
Call on the board to discuss the curriculum and take a vote rather than hiding behind the excuse that they don’t need to vote on curriculum changes.
Let them know that these standards are too extreme for the district.
Suggest alternatives such as providing access to online curricula for parents and students.
Make it clear that it is unacceptable for a school board which wants to take credit for “best in the country” to shrug this off with claims that their hands are tied by the law.
And make sure they know that their actions, or inactions, will be remembered in 2023 when they are up for re-election.