Parents' voices heard in sex ed textbook controversy

by Mary Jackson
Posted 8/11/14, 01:26 pm

UPDATE (Friday, Aug. 15, 9:45 a.m.): The Fremont, Calif., school board voted 3-2 Wednesday night to not use Your Health Today in ninth grade health classes and will instead use the same textbook as last year. School superintendent Jim Morris continues to hope publisher McGraw-Hill will modify the book so that it eventually can be used in the Fremont schools.

OUR EARLIER REPORT: The Fremont, Calif., school board is expected on Wednesday to shelve a sex education textbook slated for incoming ninth-graders after parents deemed it inappropriate and led a petition drive that garnered more than 2,200 signatures and national media attention.

Last Friday the Fremont Unified School District released a statement recommending the board postpone its decision in June to replace a decades-old health textbook with the 392-page Your Health Today, listed on bookseller sites as a college-level text.

The textbook addresses topics such as nutrition, fitness, and body weight. But I bought a copy and saw ample specific detail about various sexual practices and atypical sexual behavior. Drawings depict male and female anatomy and stages of sexual arousal. The textbook also includes information about binge drinking, sleeping pills, and how to select from various dating websites and obtain and use various birth-control methods.

Parent Asfia Ahmed was shocked the first time she flipped through the text. “It is way too explicit,” she said. “It treats our children as though they are adults.” Ahmed’s son is one of 2,400 ninth-graders entering the district’s six high schools later this month.

Ahmed and other parents started a petition drive in July after the board dismissed their concerns, recommending their children simply “opt-out” of the class, a provision of California law. Instead, Ahmed said they received an “overwhelming response” as they alerted parents and circulated rented and purchased copies of the textbook, eventually drawing media coverage.

The district said it plans to address parents’ concerns while exploring the possibility of working with the book’s publisher, McGraw-Hill, to modify the text. In Friday’s statement, the Fremont school district’s superintendent, Jim Morris, defended the book, unanimously chosen by district health teachers, saying it “provides the current, accurate, factual, and relevant information our students need to make responsible decisions.”

California standards introduce sex education as early as fifth grade, or about age 10. Ahmed said the textbook’s college-level themes violate a state law that requires course material is “age-appropriate.” “I don’t see how they can edit it to make it appropriate for teens and adolescents without rewriting half the chapters,” she said.

Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. Follow her on Twitter @mbjackson77.

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