The Mississippi Legislature this year introduced a bill specifically blocking the SIECUS standards unless local districts held hearings about SIECUS first. The measure died in committee, but a number of other states (Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia, Maryland, and others) have taken similar legislative stances against the group’s standards.
Few states appear to have adopted the NSES. In a 2014 memo SIECUS said “dozens of school districts and/or states” have used its standards, an underwhelming and slippery estimate. SIECUS did not respond to an inquiry for clarification.
The New York City Department of Education recommends curriculum aligned with NSES—the city began requiring CSE in 2011 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but like most states it has no reporting mechanism and little means of enforcement of that mandate. Though the city’s mandate applies to sixth- and seventh-graders, the city’s Department of Education reported that as of 2016, 43 percent of eighth-graders had never had a health class. (The department does not track sex ed specifically.)
In Texas, one school district recently made the big switch from offering sexual risk avoidance programs to CSE. Every school district in the state has a school health advisory council (SHAC) that makes recommendations to the local school board about sex ed curriculum. In 2011, the Austin SHAC ousted Austin LifeGuard, a sexual risk avoidance program. The Texas Freedom Network (a CSE group) had done a presentation to the SHAC claiming abstinence programs were phony and insufficient. The SHAC decided it would only allow CSE programs.
“It all depends on who’s on the SHAC,” said Corey Tabor, the head of Austin LifeGuard.
A review of Austin LifeGuard’s curriculum showed that the course emphasizes abstinence as the only way to completely avoid sexual risks but it also teaches about all types of contraception (complete with citations of reputable studies throughout).
“The one thing a person can wear ... to eliminate the risk of STIs and pregnancy is YOUR PANTS,” reads part of one cheerful high-school lesson. “At Austin LifeGuard, we love pants.”
The organization teaches in another Texas district, Lake Travis, where the school gives parents an option: send their kids to Austin LifeGuard’s class or the Planned Parenthood–led class “Big Decisions.” Tabor is frustrated that the district depicts his program as “abstinence-only,” which it isn’t.
“A parent says, ‘I want my kid to know more than abstinence,’ so they sign them up for the other program, which is described as a comprehensive program,” said Tabor.
BACK IN SAN DIEGO, Ashley Bever confronted the school about its Advocates for Youth program, arguing it was a values-laden curriculum that promoted promiscuity.
She, along with some other parents, had influence. This year the school removed the part about lying abstinence websites and introduced the concept of abstinence at a younger age. The district posted the curriculum on its website, which Bever appreciated. The school also removed a reference link from the curriculum that led to graphic videos about sex, but Bever says other links remain.
Bever opted her child out of the class this past school year—other sex ed researchers noted that the beginning of the school year was an important time for parents to be paying attention to forms about such opt-outs that might be coming home with everything else. A few other classmates opted out alongside Bever’s daughter, and they spent two weeks sitting in the library while their science teacher taught sex education to the rest of the sixth-graders.
“She felt totally ostracized, totally a weirdo,” said Bever. She and her daughter have open communication, and they had already talked about sex. Bever’s children have transgender and gay relatives, so they’ve talked about gender issues too.
“In San Diego we’re not fighting to bring abstinence-only back,” said Bever. “It’s against the law in California. We’re just trying to get a commonsense approach.”