The Chandler Unified School District is asking parents to take on the responsibility of teaching sex education to their children who are in fifth- and-sixth-grades.
In an email sent out last week, the district advised parents of videos and online materials they could use to teach their pre-pubescent children about their changing bodies.
The materials would no longer be taught in a classroom setting, the district advised.
Terry Locke, a district spokesman, said CUSD had been considering alternative forms of sex education for the last couple of years to free up time in the classroom.
“We responded to concerns and challenges of fifth and sixth-grade teachers and principals when it came to addressing the topic and loss of instructional time,” Locke said.
The changes only impact fifth and sixth-graders, he added, and don’t affect the abstinence-based curriculum taught to eighth- and-10th-graders.
But some parents feel blindsided by the sudden change, as there was no public discussion or hearing about it before the district’s Governing Board.
April Arteaga, a parent to two CUSD students, said she was “shocked” when she got the email announcing the curriculum changes. She was expecting her fifth-grader to get the same type of sex education Arteaga got – in the classroom.
“I think it’s a bummer because I think it’s creating a stigma. It should be talked about, it should be open,” she said.
The district’s email included links to videos on reproduction, menstruation and sexually-transmitted diseases.
The free videos were produced by Proctor and Gamble, a national corporation that produces several hygiene products.
“It has been a trusted resource for over 25 years and has been taught to millions of students nationwide,” CUSD wrote in its email to parents.
It feels like the district is taking a step backward, Arteaga added, because there’s a benefit to learning about these topics alongside one’s peers.
She’ll review the videos and consider discussing them with her kids, but Arteaga worries they won’t be as engaged since the information is coming from their mother.
Arizona law does not obligate school districts to provide any sex education. But if they do, the law encourages the curriculum to promote abstinence and parents have the right to not have their child participate.
This allows districts across the East Valley to vary in what types of sex-ed curriculum it wants.
In 2009, the Kyrene School District expanded its curriculum by teaching middle school students about condoms. Other districts have decided to remain focused on an abstinence-only message or not provide any curriculum at all.
The Tempe Union High School District was marred in controversy in 2014 when it considered introducing new sex-ed materials that had ties to Planned Parenthood.
Communities outside of Arizona have also had to contend with parents who oppose the curriculum they feel sexualizes young children.
One school district in Washington State succumbed to the protests of parents last month by eliminating sex education altogether.
Religious groups in Texas have been pushing against one district for trying to make its sex-ed curriculum more inclusive to LGBTQ students.
Despite some public backlash against comprehensive sex education, surveys show most parents approve of having this material taught in schools.
In 2011, 93 percent of parents polled by the University of Texas supported a school-based sex education. Seventy percent of Arizona households surveyed in 2013 favored having “medically accurate” sex education in secondary schools.
But researchers have been noticing a decline in the number of students receiving sex education.
The Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization, found that the proportion of teenage girls who received education about birth control dropped from 70 to 60 percent between 2006 and 2013.
Access to this information is vital for helping youth to build healthy relationships, the institute argues.
“A large body of research has found no evidence that providing young people with sexual and reproductive health information and education results in increased sexual risk-taking,” the Guttmacher Institute wrote in a report.
Starting in the mid-2000s, Chandler Unified began updating some of its sex-ed materials by replacing outdated videos from the 1970s and 1980s.
Sixth-grade teachers were given DVDs and PowerPoint presentations that they’d administer only three days out of the school year.
When the district made these changes, it put together an advisory committee of parents and staff to review the revisions being made to the curriculum.
Chandler Unified didn’t do any formal survey when it recently decided to stop classroom curriculum, Locke added.