RSF School to adopt new comprehensive sex ed curriculum

R. Roger Rowe School.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe School District Board is preparing to approve a new comprehensive sexual education curriculum.

The new curriculum was on the board’s April 22 agenda for approval but they decided to wait as trustees still had questions about what was going to be taught to R. Roger Rowe School fifth and seventh graders.

For the record:

8:56 a.m. April 28, 2022The special meeting on April 29 will be held at noon, with public comment before the board goes into closed session.

Historically, Rowe has done programs on the topic in the fifth and seventh grades. Fifth grade is a focus on puberty, personal hygiene and healthy relationships toward the end of the year. Seventh grade learns about the reproductive system in science classes throughout the year and then one day at the end of the year addresses more personal topics.

Following the passage of the California Healthy Youth Act’s new health education framework, Superintendent Donna Tripi said the district needed to make adjustments to its program.

The California Healthy Youth Act, enacted in 2016, requires that all students in grades 7-12 receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education. By law, students must receive this education once in middle school and once in high school.

The purpose of the act is to enable students to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage and family, and to promote understanding of sexuality as a normal part of human development.

Per the framework, instruction must be medically accurate, be inclusive of LGBTQ students and must also teach about gender, gender expression, gender identity and the harm of negative gender stereotypes.

Last year Tripi said they looked at the framework and made some changes to their programs but knew that adopting a new curriculum would be a priority going forward. A committee was formed of parents, teachers and administrators to look at the framework and recommend a curriculum—they selected the Rights, Respect and Responsibility curriculum, with some adjustments due to age appropriateness.

Tripi said in addition to aligning with the Healthy Youth Act, the committee also talked about what they hope students learn and experience at Rowe. The committee came up with healthy confidence, self image, having a safe and trusted adult to talk to, students feeling informed about where to get additional information, the importance of consent and having respect for others’ feelings and cutting down on teasing and bullying. Online safety was also huge, Tripi said.

Seventh grade will be expanded from a one-day to five-day program (about an hour each session) . The fifth grade program does not fall under the California Healthy Youth Act and will be a four-day program that follows the state standards on growth, development and sexual health.

Parents can review the curriculum and opt out of part or all of it; Tripi said the district had a few parents opt out last year.

At the April 22 meeting, Trustees Annette Ross and Rosemarie Rohtagi were frustrated that they weren’t able to review all of the slides that will be presented to the students in class.

“We really need these slides ahead of time, especially something this important that’s controversial,” Rohatgi said.

Rohatgi said from what she had seen in the teacher guide and slide deck that will be presented to children there were several things she doesn’t feel comfortable with. Ross said she would opt out her own child from the program, which makes her uncomfortable approving it for the entire district.

“I think this kind of stuff is primarily taught at home. Parents should be the primary educators of this and it can be supplemented at the school level,” RSF School Board President Jee Manghani said. “I know there’s a law that mandates a certain level of that instruction, I know we have to meet the legal requirement… To me the primary is always the home, it’s always the parent.”

Parents at the meeting were also frustrated that the slides weren’t presented in full that day: “We need some transparency so we can decide as parents what’s best for our children.”

Parents said they were OK with teaching anatomy and biology but there is a lot that shouldn’t be learned or “promoted” at school.

In her comments, Trustee Kali Kim said there were many things in the new curriculum she liked—while under the sex ed umbrella, it teaches valuable lessons on empowering and protecting students from abuse, body image, preventing bullying, setting boundaries and it gives teachers more social and emotional learning resources.

She appreciated the collaborative effort the district took to select the curriculum but also understood why parents had concerns.

“I do think what we’re seeing is parents have a growing and large suspicion that their school systems have political and cultural agendas that they’re uncomfortable with…I feel there’s been considerable over-reach on that culture part from the left,” Kim said. “The principals in our school have the responsibility to have open, strong communication with parents on what is being taught in this district.”

Kim said whenever the board approves any curriculum there needs to be clear communication and forums where parents feel their voices will be heard.

“You have to build that trust so that they don’t have to worry that something is happening in our classrooms that they don’t approve of,” Kim said. “I think that is the real fear that you’re seeing.”