What is District 214 doing with respect to Sex Education and the new state law?
Here’s the good news.
Dr. Schuler had asserted that they are not changing their curriculum in response to the new state law, and parents had been struggling to make sense of this assertion in light of the requirement in that law that states which teach comprehensive sex ed must be aligned with the so-called National Sex Education Standards. At the most recent Board of Education meeting, Dr. Schuler repeated this assertion, and in response to a FOIA, I was told the following:
As permitted by that Public Act, the School District has not elected to implement such comprehensive sexual health or comprehensive personal health and safety education curricula. Instead, the School District will continue to implement its existing sex education curriculum and health curriculum, as it has in past school years.
Now, as context, the phrase “comprehensive sex education” has a general meaning in widespread use; it is used to contrast with abstinence-only education programs in order to advocate for teaching children the full details of how to access and use contraception and how to avoid STIs. Advocates either take a harm-reduction approach that “sure, it is ideal for teens to postpone sex, but we need to provide information for those who don’t,” or they take an explicitly behavior-agnostic approach that “there is nothing wrong with teens having sex and they shouldn’t be shamed for that decision.” (See Wikipedia for a general discussion.) Based on this definition in general use, parents are justifiably suspicious of any claims that the curriculum is not changing as District 214 has a curriculum that meets this definition by offering instruction in contraception — and especially since, as is the case for district 214, “gender identity” is a listed part of the curriculum and Gender Identity speakers are known to be coming to the schools.
However, it turns out that the law itself cleverly included a loophole in its very text. Here is how the law defines “comprehensive sexual health education”:
“Comprehensive sexual health education” means age and developmentally appropriate education that aligns with the National Sex Education Standards, including information on consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health, and interpersonal violence.
In other words, when the law states a list of requirements for schools which provide “comprehensive sexual health education” and state that “comprehensive sexual health education” must “align with” the NSES, this is all circular, because if a school’s instruction does not align with the NSES, it is not deemed to be “comprehensive sexual health education” and thus the district is not subject to the terms of the new law, even if their classes cover all the material that is considered, by the general usage definition of the term, to be included in “comprehensive sexual health education,” such as contraception, STI avoidance, and so on. And even though an ISBE fact sheet says that “School districts that choose to provide instruction in sexual health education must develop or select a curriculum that is aligned with the new standards,” this is mere “non-regulatory guidance” rather than the text of the law.
I honestly don’t know if this was a drafting mistake and the authors of this legislation intended to bind school districts and force them into the NSES, or if they intended for schools to perceive themselves obliged to adopt these standards, or if they merely wanted to satisfy the party wing that wanted to promote these standards. And, to be clear, I have not seen anyone — not at D214 nor anyone else — say, “the loophole is that the definition of “comprehensive sexual health education” is circular!” But this appears to be how they are justifying their approach even if they don’t state this.
However, here is the bad news:
District 214 is not only not providing complete information on their actual sex ed curriculum to the community, they have explicitly said that they will not do so; that is, the district website states that “supplemental online resources” will be used, and the FOIA officer has explicitly told me and other parents that they refuse to provide information on these online resources and consider it exempt from FOIA. Only parents with children currently enrolled in a health education class, not those considering whether to opt-out of the sex ed portion in the future or seeking to assess its appropriateness for the community, are able, by laws on curriculum inspection, to request examination of curricular materials (and hope that their child’s teacher is honest and trustworthy enough to provide all course materials/links).
Again, there are numerous indicators that the course content may well go beyond what parents and community members believe is appropriate. The Equity Audit revealed that schools are bringing in Gender Identity speakers, and this is listed by the district as a topic in the curriculum “scope and sequence.” It is also well-known that there are many videos, produced by such organizations as Planned Parenthood, which promote the use of terminology such as “bodies with pensises” or “bodies with uteruses” rather than “men” and “women,” which promote the idea that a student who does not have a deep inner feeling of being a “boy” or a “girl” might very likely be nonbinary, which explicitly state that the way to decide whether you are ready to have sex, regardless of age, is whether you feel like you have a strong and caring relationship with your prospective sex partner, and which treat abortion as a simple medical procedure to “remove a pregnancy.”
Restricting access to parents of students directly enrolled effectively takes away the ability of concerned families to engage in productive discussions about what class content is appropriate for our District 214 community. Parents are left solely with the option to opt in or opt out, nothing more. The refusal by the district to provide this information is an exercise in asserting their power and keeping parents powerless. That might be completely in keeping with The District 214 Way, but it’s still not right.
— Authored by Elizabeth Bauer