A policy revision approved last week by the TUSD Governing Board has opened the door to offering students a more comprehensive sex education.
But one segment of the student population — those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — will be left out of discussions as the district works to abide by a law that goes against the values of inclusivity TUSD has adopted.
The new policy calls for curriculum that provides medically accurate, age-appropriate information on anatomy, reproduction and related biology. While abstinence will continue to be encouraged, as required by state law, it will not be the sole emphasis.
Though the curriculum itself has yet to be developed, students like University High School junior Deja Foxx say comprehensive sex education is much needed, especially in Tucson’s largest school district.
Comprehensive sex ed “is vital to students in our district because we come from such varied backgrounds,” the teen said, adding it is TUSD’s responsibility to educate students equally. “The lack of a comprehensive sexual education in our district is disproportionately affecting undocumented students, students of color, poor students, students living on their own, LGBTQ students and women and girls on our campuses.
“I believe every student, regardless of these characteristics, should be provided the same opportunity to achieve higher education. This policy demonstrates our district standing in solidarity with its students.”
Limits of Arizona law
TUSD has worked to develop policies and practices that promote respect for diversity in the areas of gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity, languages and countries of origin, religious beliefs, family structures and status, and varying abilities.
But because Arizona law prohibits teachings that promote homosexuality, the TUSD Governing Board was forced to strike from its new policy that the curriculum would be inclusive of LGBTQ students, which board clerk Kristel Foster called “a shame” and a “sad statement.”
Alex Ross, a University of Arizona junior who has been working with past and present TUSD students to compel the Governing Board to take up this cause, agrees.
The 20-year-old Ross says he was fortunate to have received a comprehensive sex education in New York, but feels the attitude toward LGBTQ students is frightening.
“As a queer man myself, I felt very outcast by it.
“I got to thinking about other students who are in high school, taking these courses, and their identities are actively silenced and reduced.”
Ross is happy that TUSD is working to provide more comprehensive sex education and hopes other school districts will do the same.
“It’s just one of those things that we have to keep hitting hard,” he said. “It’s not something we can be quiet about.”
The new sex education curriculum will address contraceptives as a way of reducing the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
It will also seek to help students make informed decisions and create healthy relationships, covering topics like bullying, dating violence and consent.
Once the curriculum is designed and implemented, parents will have to give permission for their children to be exposed to it.
When the time comes to put the curriculum together, TUSD will seek input from various constituencies and plans to have the final product vetted by the Arizona Department of Education.
Though the new policy was unanimously approved by the Governing Board, opponents of comprehensive sex education made their voices heard just before votes were cast.
Parents and students asked the board to remove the policy from the agenda, saying feedback was needed from other segments of the Tucson population and argued that it is the job of parents to educate their children on personal matters like sex.
Mayra Duron, a mother of five children who attend TUSD schools, acknowledges that sex education classes only scratch the surface of what young people need to know, but she says that is where parents step in.
“I am standing here opposing the comprehensive sex education curriculum,” she said. “I have a 13-year-old son and I love keeping the door open when it comes to such an intimate notion. I, too, was a teen mother and I did attend sex education classes. They really just served as a disclaimer. … I believe teachers can actually encourage students who do have questions to turn around and say, ‘This is a matter that you need to speak with your parents about.’”
Jeff Vanderford, a pastor at Authentic Life Church, went as far as to remind the Governing Board that parents could choose to enroll their children elsewhere if they are uncomfortable and asked that they not be forced to choose between their faith, their beliefs and their school district.
Michelle Howard, who graduated from Sabino High School in May, countered that the conversation about comprehensive sex education is not about religious beliefs or morals.
“This push for sexual education is not about promoting sex,” she said. “Most of us grew up hearing the abstinence argument and the religious doctrines and the teachings that firmly preach that we should wait until marriage to have sex. And the type of education that some people are in support of has been implemented for years already and this, according to people who believe in it, is all children to have to have to be protected.
“But if this were the truth, then there wouldn’t be victimization occurring in our community, there wouldn’t be an increasingly high pregnancy rate. … This is not about God, this is not about politics or Planned Parenthood or abortion, and it is especially not about fighting. This is about making Tucson a better community.”