Tucson Unified Board Delays Vote On Controversial Sex Ed Curriculum

TUCSON — The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board once again delayed a vote on the highly controversial Sex Education curriculum.

At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Governing Board, concerned parents showed up in force. Support and opposition to the controversial Family Life Curriculum has stirred emotions and they were evident on Tuesday.

One man in particular seemed to give voice to portions of the religious and Latino communities that have been very opposed to the curriculum:

Supporters of the curriculum spoke passionately about their position as well. One such supporter discussed the “need” for the curriculum:

Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo seemed to blame parents and members of the public for “politicizing” the issue before stating that the curriculum was “not ready.”

Trujillo outlined his proposal for moving forward. His plan would include a district-wide orientation for parents on the subject matter, and professional development/training for all educators who will be teaching the Family Life lessons.

Prior to the meeting, TUSD Governing Board member Dr. Mark Stegeman, who has expressed support and concerns about the curriculum, shared his thoughts about the process with constituents. He noted that “numerous process flaws plagued the Family Life committee process.”

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The Family Life Committee was formed to include members of the public in the development of the curriculum. However, as Stegeman noted, the “committee membership was skewed.” He wrote in part:

The committee that drafted the current proposals had six members, who were appointed as follows:

Foster appointees: Hamilton (2016) and Grivois-Shaw (2019)
Grijalva appointee: Ragan (2019)
Counts appointee: Gerken (2019)
Hicks appointee: Coleman (2016)
HT Sanchez appointee: Gruber (2016)

I do not criticize any individual member, but in aggregate it was a skewed committee. (Due mostly to staff errors, Sedgwick and I lost the appointments that we were supposed to get this year.) A more balanced committee might have generated less controversial proposals, which would be easier for me to support.

The District’s Sex Education curriculum has not been changed in years. The updated version has sparked controversy because it no longer claims that sexual abstinence is the only effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The updated curriculum delves into gender identity issues.

In his letter to constituents, Stegeman stated that the “final proposals, which were developed under time pressure and released two months late, are unready for adoption.”

Stegemen constituent letter in its entirety:

Dear supporters and correspondents,

It has been too many months since I have written to you on TUSD matters. I have several half-drafted letters, which will (soon I hope) provide information that has been mostly unreported or at best incompletely reported.

I write today on the single issue of “family life” education (including sex education), which has unexpectedly blown up into one of the biggest issues during my board tenure. Only Mexican American Studies and school closures have generated comparable public uproar.

The board has already received many hours of public comment, at several board meetings and at three public hearings dedicated to this issue. I expect extensive public comment, again, at tonight’s meeting, where the board will decide on the next step(s).

I have attached an oped that appeared in Saturday’s Daily Star. It summarizes my support for much of what the family life committee has suggested but also my concerns. In my opinion its final proposals, which were developed under time pressure and released two months late, are unready for adoption. It is already impractical to offer the curriculum in the current academic year, so there is plenty of time for district staff to refine the committee’s product.

It is possible, however, that a majority of the board will press forward and vote for adoption tonight.

Rather than repeat the points from the published oped, here I merely add seven points that I omitted because of the Star’s space limitations.

1) The proposed curriculum does not endorse illegal acts. In general, we teach to inform students’ adult lives, not their lives as minors; this includes sex education. The current and proposed new curricula both teach Arizona statute, which prohibits sex acts with minors. (Statute also provides an exception for consensual acts among persons aged 15-18, if at most 24 months separate their ages.)

2) My general approach to teaching “values.” While on the board, my consistent position has been that it is appropriate to teach “values” that reflect broad community consensus. That is somewhat subjective, but I think it is appropriate to teach kindness, tolerance, hard work, honesty, respect for the law, the importance of voting, etc. It has become obvious, in recent weeks, that there is no such consensus on many aspects of sexual behavior. So in these areas, I think it is appropriate for the schools to provide information (e.g., the major health advantages of limiting sexual activity) but not to preach how students should behave.

Sometimes it is hard to see a sharp line between providing information and preaching, but the distinction is meaningful nonetheless. If, for example, we teach the advantages of abstinence (by whatever definition) in a way that causes students who have already sacrificed abstinence to feel shame or shunned, then we have probably crossed the line.

Some persons take a broader view of the governing board’s role, but I think it is outside my mandate to press my personal values onto students. When teaching economics to students at UA, I similarly try to set aside my personal views on politics and economic policy.

3) TUSD already has (on paper) a substantial family life curriculum. Some persons’ comments, on both sides of the issue, seem uninformed about TUSD’s existing and fairly extensive (opt-in) sex education curriculum. The current proposals are to revise that curriculum, not to create something new.

4) I am concerned about the current implementation of TUSD’s family life curriculum, including the “opt-in” provision. Offsetting point (3), some persons’ comments to the board raise serious questions about whether the current family life curriculum is being taught effectively or at all. That issue is separate from the current revisions. If TUSD staff are not respecting the board’s past decisions concerning curriculum, or are wandering into creating their own unapproved curriculum, then that is a problem for any subject area.

Two months ago I asked how many students “opt-in” to TUSD’s current family life curriculum. I repeated the request last month, but the board has yet to receive any data. I think staff may be having difficulty collecting these data, partly because some schools have not been offering the family life curriculum, and partly because others have been offering it without careful implementation of the opt-in requirement. Flawed implementation of the current curriculum raises obvious questions about the implementation of any revised curriculum.

5) Numerous process flaws plagued the family life committee process.
a) The committee membership was skewed. The committee that drafted the current proposals had six members, who were appointed as follows:

Foster appointees: Hamilton (2016) and Grivois-Shaw (2019)

Grijalva appointee: Ragan (2019)

Counts appointee: Gerken (2019)

Hicks appointee: Coleman (2016)

HT Sanchez appointee: Gruber (2016)

I do not criticize any individual member, but in aggregate it was a skewed committee. (Due mostly to staff errors, Sedgwick and I lost the appointments that we were supposed to get this year.) A more balanced committee might have generated less controversial proposals, which would be easier for me to support.

b) The committee’s work product was posted later than required by Open Meeting Law. I believe that the Open Meeting Law required a clear public posting of the committee’s work product, as it cleared committee votes, but this did not occur. Some proposals were finally posted in July (after the first public hearing), and the rest were posted on August 1. The delays were apparently not an oversight but a deliberate attempt to delay public response during the committee’s deliberations.

Those were only the most important process failures. Other violations of statute or the board’s direction included: some committee meetings had no agenda posted, no minutes posted, or both; the first few meetings of the (reconstituted) committee violated board policy by having no audience call on the agenda; the three new committee members continued to work long past the expiration of their appointments on June 1.

6) Resources should be made available to parents who prefer to be responsible for their children’s sex education. Many persons who have expressed opposition to the proposed curriculum have suggested that TUSD could make materials available to parents, or even provide some training, to help parents undertake the task in a family setting. This makes sense to me. Board policy IHAMB already requires:

“The Governing Board shall review the total instructional materials and approve all lessons in the course of study to be offered in sex education.

The Governing Board shall maintain for viewing by the public to the total instructional materials to be used in all high school sex education courses to be offered.”

(7) Many of the concerns that originally motivated the current review of the family life curriculum can be addressed without implementing the (proposed) changes that have caused the most controversy. Many of the persons who have advocated for the proposed curriculum, while speaking to the board, have offered heart-wrenching stories about the consequences of marginalizing students, as if they do not even exist. I believe that relatively minor revisions to the proposed new curriculum, combined with referrals to resources outside of the classroom, can address this problem while omitting much of the content that has provoked the strongest objections.

I hope that the board will give staff the opportunity to find that middle ground.

Thanks for your interest in TUSD issues.

2 Comments

  1. So it is “give the kids all their options,” but “don’t tell them how to behave.” Is there anybody that doesn’t know how that will end up?

    Take your children far away from this nonsense.

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