Sex ed curriculum updated, consent standard raised

URL: Sex ed curriculum updated, consent standard raised

317230868-Mosaic-2016 Page 15

By Shauli Bar-On and Avni Prasad

Thirty years ago, when Perryn Reis sat in her high school self defense class, she learned to always carry pepper spray, to use karate moves and to rip someone’s eye out with keys. She learned that “rape was just something that’s going to happen,” something inevitable, and that protecting herself could very well come in handy.

Now as a curriculum writer, Reis for the past 12 years has been working to send a different message: sexual harassment is not a woman’s problem, it’s a cultural problem.

“It affects everyone,” Reis said. “We need to change the culture around sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, and people of all genders are part of that.”

The story of a young woman raped by Stanford student Brock Turner sent shock waves across the country. The verdict — a six month sentence — has not only drawn outrage on the internet, but has also kindled a national discussion on a perceived ‘rape culture’ and how it can be addressed.

“Sexual harassment is everyone’s problem,” said Yasaman Hakami, president and founder of the Women’s Empowerment Club at Homestead High School in Cupertino, “regardless of age, status, sex, race, etc. when one of us is hurt all of us hurt.”

Hakami founded the club at her school in order to raise awareness about the problems women face in the community and initiate conversations on how to better society.

“Any campus rape situation can be prevented when the correct implementation of educational courses are taught at school not only at the college level but throughout each grade until the student completes his or her educational career,” Hakami said.

California legislatures have, over the past two years, passed measures calling for an upgraded sexual education curriculum and the redefining of sexual consent.

In late 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Affirmative Consent Bill, which raised the consent standard from “No Means No” to “Yes Means Yes.”

“‘Affirmative consent means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity….Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent,” the bill states.

The new curriculum is set to be carried out in classrooms beginning next school year in the fall.

In Oct. 2015, just over a year after the “Yes Means Yes” bill, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber passed the California Healthy Youth Act into law.

The new bill builds off the new consent standard and requires public high schools to modernize their sex education curriculum to include birth control and other contraceptives, pregnancy options, sexual decision making, abuse and assault.

“Education is by far the most important and statistically accurate way of preventing rape and sexual harassment,” Hakami said, “Children both male and female must be taught not to hurt each other and to respect each other’s boundaries.”

Although the California legislation has received a great deal of positive feedback, there are those who believe discouraging teens from engaging in sexual activity is a better way to eliminate threatening sexual advances.

Ascend, an organization previously known as the National Abstinence Education Association, additionally sees the new education requirements as “a step in the right direction,” but encourages students to wait for sex until they are in a monogamous, faithful relationship.

“We think that the whole issue of consent should be broadened to really include a more holistic view of sexual activity and the advisability of a teen actually engaging in sexual activity,” Ascend’s national director for state initiatives Mary Anne Mosack said.

Mosack said the organization strives to eliminate the risks of teenage sex rather than reduce it. She notes pregnancy, STDs and a drop in academic performance as other consequences teens who engage in sixual activity could face.

“We don’t want [underage citizens] to interpret consent as a green light for sex,” she said, “there are more things to think about than simply consent.”

As the implementation date rolls in this fall, districts are preparing material to meet the requirements of the California Healthy Youth Act.

To make these sexual education lessons comfortable and engaging for both teachers and students, Health Connected, a non-profit organization, designs an interactive sexual health curriculum for districts across California including Fremont Union High School District and Palo Alto Unified School District.

“This isn’t a topic that lends itself to big textbooks,” Reis said, “so it’s not just lecture based: there are group activities, role plays, coloring activities, [and sexual education] poetry.”

Fremont Union District is planning on incorporating the new curriculum into their existing sex education unit taught in freshman biology classes.

Trudy Gross, director of educational and special services for Fremont Union District, said the district attended a training in March in order to implement the new curriculum.

“We want to be giving our students very current information,” Gross said, “things that they’re hearing about, vocabulary that they’re hearing.”

She expressed her optimism and assurance that the new curriculum will encourage students to think through their actions.

“The fact that more topics are being covered and we’re giving more time for that… it gives a little more opportunity for students to be thinking about it,” she said.

Unlike Fremont Union District, Palo Alto Union offers a required, semester-long Living Skills course, which covers health, drugs and sexual education, in its two high schools — Henry M. Gunn and Palo Alto High School.

Janet Tucker, coordinator of the living skills summer school classes for  Palo Alto Union, has been teaching the summer sexual health education classes for three years.

“A lot of people don’t want to teach sex ed.– it is an uncomfortable topic for them,” Tucker said. “[The Health Connected book “Teen Talk”] does it all for you. They give you activities, pretests, posttests.”

Reis’s Health Connected sexual education curriculum has found its way into classrooms across California including Tucker’s, and her impact reaches about 8,000 students each year.

When a freshman at Carlmont High School wrote a poem about consent in 2015, she knew that this education was indeed accomplishing her goal in changing society’s views about rape.  The poem reads, “So if you take it a bit further than a kiss, make sure that you remember this: if you and your partner go past third, make sure that a ‘yes’ is heard!”

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