To some, sex education in the Gilroy Unified School District
is a laughing matter
By heather Bremner Staff Writer
Gilroy – Students still giggle, red-faced with embarrassment as they watch the frumpy-garbed “actors” discuss puberty, masturbation and periods. Inappropriate questions, sometimes about a teacher’s sex life, are often mixed in with legitimate inquires.
It’s pretty obvious: not much has changed in the world of sex education.
When Eileen Obata came on board 10 years ago and began visiting local classrooms to discuss all those uncomfortable subjects, the Gilroy Unified School District nurse quickly learned that she needed to rein in the kids.
Obata nixed the verbal questions. Now the kids anonymously write them out and she weeds out the bogus ones from students she says are “just there to show off.”
But even if they don’t take it seriously, unless parents sign what’s called a “negative permission” slip, teens and pre-teens attending public schools in California are forced to blush and squirm through sex education for at least five hours of their middle school tenure.
Some teens might have a hard time handling a week-long sex education lesson but Liana Acosta doesn’t think a mere five hours cuts it.
The 14-year-old Gilroy High School freshman also thinks sex education should be a requirement during freshman year, not during elementary or middle school.
“In sixth grade you’re not going to have sex,” said Acosta.
The California Education Code requires sex education in junior high or middle school and again in high school. The code doesn’t specify how many hours students must spend, but the law very clearly states what teachers must talk about and when, said Sharla Smith, HIV/STDs prevention consultant for the California Department of Education.
The amount of time it takes to cover everything can vary but it usually takes about an hour a day for five days to cover all the material, said Smith.
Sex education is a controversial topic but Dave McRae said he hasn’t heard a peep from locals during his three-year reign on the GUSD board.
“It’s about the only thing that I expect (parents) to be complaining about that hasn’t popped up,” he said.
McRae said he would like to see more sex education in the district but in the face of No Child Left Behind and the California High School Exit Exam, it’s not a priority. He would rather see students beef up their scores and pass the CAHSEE.
“Ideally I want every single student to pass the CAHSEE,” he said. “That’s a high priority right now … But on a personal level I think the more information the better off they are.”
Unlike many states, California school boards have “significant freedom” regarding sex education but they can’t stray from the specifics of the education code, said Smith. Also, abstinence-only education is against the law in the Golden State.
The lengthy education code states that students must receive HIV/AIDs education once in junior high or middle school and once in high school.
Sixth-graders may be innocent, but once students step onto the high school campus things change, said Acosta. She should know. Her friend, also 14, recently found out she was pregnant and dropped out of school. Also, her sister had a baby at 14 and is now 19 and has two children.
“I don’t really plan on losing my virginity anytime soon,” Acosta said.
Despite Acosta’s experience, recent statistics from Kidsdata.org shows a steady decline in teen pregnancies in Santa Clara County. In 1997 the rate of births per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 was 44.7 percent. That number dropped to 36.2 percent in 1999, 33.6 percent in 2001 and 29.6 percent in 2003.
But not all are abstaining.
Samantha Papion, 17, said she and her boyfriend of one-year are having sex. The GHS senior said her mom knows she’s sexually active and is just worried about her being safe.
Although Papion is having sex, she said “a lot” of her high school friends are virgins.
Papion and her sister Lisa Papion, 14, think schools shouldn’t focus on abstinence-only education. Actually, the sisters think the sex education they sat through in sixth grade was pretty pointless.
“Sixth grade kids thought it was embarrassing to talk about,” said Samantha Papion.
Angela Borges echoed her sentiments.
“I think it’s stupid,” said the 14-year-old freshman, referring to sex education in sixth grade.
The students all agreed that sex education should be relegated to the upper grades.
High school sex education does exist but it’s interspersed into science classes. Obata said once students hit high school, the curriculum is focused more on preventative methods such as birth control and condoms and the emotional aspects of being sexually active.