New California sex-education curriculum

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently approved a pair of bills that requires public schools to teach sex-education at least once in middle school and once in high school and to update the curriculum of existing sex-education classes. Among other things, high schools such as those in Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) must teach affirmative consent for sexual activity.

Living Skills, PAUSD’s sex-education class, already includes much of the new curriculum outlined in the bills, which is intended to keep up with the modern changes in sex-education.

The teaching of affirmative consent means that students will be taught about an affirmative, “yes means yes” form of consent, in which consent must be given during each stage of a sexual encounter, rather than the now-outdated “no means no” form of non-consent. Previously implemented on college campuses in California, the teaching of affirmative consent has grown in popularity and is becoming the new and accepted way to help students learn to have more control over their sexual encounters. Safe sex, or the usage of protection in sexual encounters, is also a vital aspect of the curriculum.

Previously, sex-education classes were not required in California. If districts chose to teach the subject, there were certain state-imposed guidelines in place for the curricula. One of the new laws, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016, will result in few entirely new classes, as 96 percent of California school districts already teach comprehensive sex education classes, according to the California Department of Education. Parents will still have the option to excuse their children from the class.

In Palo Alto High School’s course catalog, Living Skills is described as a class intended to help students “make informed, responsible decisions about issues that affect personal health and well-being” and “establish and sustain healthy, rewarding interpersonal relationships,” among other things.

According to Living Skills teacher Letitia Burton, not much will change about the class.

“We already provide a comprehensive sex education curriculum,” Burton said.

One of the laws requires the curriculum in sex education classes to include “information about sexual harassment, sexual assault, adolescent relationship abuse, intimate partner violence, and sex trafficking.” Students also must be taught “knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage, and family.”

California State Senator Kevin de León, co-author of one of these bills, discussed the purpose behind the sexual violence portion of the bill in an interview with the New York Times.

“Sexual violence has always thrived in the gray areas of the law,” de León said. “What we want to create is a standard of behavior, a paradigm shift as much as a legal shift.”

De León sees the billww as a way to reduce the incidence of sexual violence, by introducing the idea of responsibility to students early on.

“I firmly believe that by instilling in young minds the importance of affirmative consent and relationships built on love and respect, that we can reduce the sexual violence inflicted on young women,” de León said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, the current policy of teaching AIDS and HIV prevention  information will have to be combined into the sex-education classes, as opposed to the previous alternative option of still requiring AIDS/HIV prevention curriculum but having it taught as a separate class.