By Vanessa Van Pell
Tension rose between grandparents, parents, and students as they lined up in front of Del Valle Continuation High School to voice a range of opinions both praising and criticizing how Planned Parenthood provides sexual education to students in Acalanes and Miramonte High Schools.
On Wednesday, April 15, about 120 community members gathered outside Del Valle in Walnut Creek, ready to convene at 7:30 for an open session.
In question was what to be done about Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 6142.1 Sexual Health and HIV/Aids Prevention Instruction, under which Planned Parenthood has been presenting guidance to students in the Acalanes Union High School District for the past ten years. The instruction covers topics such as abortion, birth control, sexual orientation, body image, general health care, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Planned Parenthood teaches during freshman Physical Education classes for five sequential days during the nine week mandatory Health unit. In addition to Planned Parenthood, each ninth graders physical education teachers will provide the rest of the eight weeks of sex ed.
Acalanes moms Robin Longchamps and Christina Lyons thought that Planned Parenthood represented every reason to pull their child out of the program. In October of 2014, these two moms brought their concern to public comment at the board meeting and brought awareness to this issue.
The Board finally found time for Planned Parenthood on its agenda board in April. This opened the doors for Acalanes District members and Bay Area residents to voice their concerns and opinions regarding Planned Parenthood’s teachings.
While Board members were preparing to talk about a revision for the HIV/AIDS Prevention Policy, many parents wanted drastic changes to the policy, such as the complete abolition of Planned Parenthood.
“There was no decision to say, ‘Yes, Planned Parenthood’, or ‘No, Planned Parenthood,’” Acalanes Union High School District Superintendent John Nickson explained. “There was no decision to radically change what we’re doing. It just creates more explicit guidelines and processes for the school sites to improve program.”
Before making any final decisions, the Governing Board listened to all speakers. The Board was particularly interested in parents who had kids who had recently gone through Planned Parenthood. They were not interested in people outside of the District, and other bias organizations.
One community member, Camille Giglio, who also happens to be the face of the No To Irresponsible Sex Education (NOISE) Coalition, a group that has previously expressed their dissatisfaction with Planned Parenthood, is one member who wanted the Board to completely get rid of Planned Parenthood in the Acalanes District.
“AUHSD board and administrators are due to reconsider things, hopefully to end Planned Parenthood intrusions in favor of more responsible instruction,” wrote Giglio in a post on the NOISE Coalition blog.
The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), aims to defend religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. NOISE and PJI have been coming to all meetings to try and get rid of Planned Parenthood.
Before addressing the Planned Parenthood issue, the Board first discussed other agenda items, such as Executive Cabinet Updates and student representatives reporting on their school, pertaining to the Acalanes School District. Although open session was in motion, audience members only spoke regarding Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Instruction Policy, section 10.03.
Each speaker was given one minute to speak instead of the previously estimated three because there was such a high demand to talk to the Board. A total of 53 people spoke. Danville resident Larry Jones thought the time limit was an unfair curveball.
“I had three minutes here that I was going to talk, and I don’t think that at the end of the day it’s quite fair,” Jones said.
Like Jones, other people from outside of the District came to the meeting to not only voice their opinion, but to tell the Board what should be done about Planned Parenthood.
“What the Board was not interested in, was people outside of the District who clearly had a political agenda, coming in and speaking, and telling the Board what we should do,” Nickerson said. “[The Board] wants to know what our parents are interested in.”
Tom Duckworth, the father of two Acalanes students, broke the ice when he talked about Planned Parenthood being beneficial for him and his family.
“I think it’s been great, for at least our family, to be able to discuss the things that happen during the class,” Duckworth said. “Planned Parenthood has been involved in this for quite a while, and my kids have reported to us that the classes have been extraordinary.”
Other community members, such as Tara Fikrat, a District member since 1992 with Las Lomas students, and Kimberly Schroder, an Acalanes graduate, believed that Planned Parenthood provides information based on common sense sex ed and medically relevant material. Schroder also stated that she has used information from Planned Parenthood in her adult life.
Sally Wood, a Las Lomas mom of eight, was against Planned Parenthood’s way of presenting information to high schoolers. In addition, she believes Planned Parenthood uses catchphrases that push teenagers to have sex more frivolously. She feels that Planned Parenthood is a biased organization and that sex education should be taught with a neutral stance.
“You can go to their politics tab and see how to vote on assembly bills and senate bills,” Wood said. “They tell you to vote for Obama, and protect yourself from Romney.”
Steve Wood also commented about parents not having more access to the information on the program.
“It’s a parent’s right to attend the sex ed class,” Steve Wood said. “I submit to you that policy needs to change.”
According to the Education Code, a parent has the right to view instruction given to their child, after notification to the teacher.
Christina Lyons, the Acalanes mom of two who initially brought the issue of Planned Parenthood to the Board’s attention, spoke about similar concerns.
“I think it’s critical that we not entertain a vendor that is not willing to introduce their teacher to the parent,” Lyons said.
In addition, Lyon also believes that a solution to the controversy would be a practice shown in Southern Districts.
“I do strongly urge that we create a vendor selection group committee when we are considering a vendor at our site,” Lyon said. “Then the vendor that we choose will then represent the feelings, the beliefs, and our community in a more representative way.”
However, in January, around the time Planned Parenthood would be starting their curriculum with the freshman, the District had a viewing night for parents at Acalanes.
“Nobody did show up to the meeting in January,” said Nickerson. “If we do it again and there’s not interest, then we probably won’t put energy into that.”
Jones focused on Planned Parenthood allegedly using taxpayer dollars to fund their program, causing a stir of emotions amongst the crowd.
“[Planned Parenthood] is supported with tax dollars, and there is even a little brochure that was passed out here about the use of taxpayer dollars,” Jones said. “You want these people to be a part of sex education in schools?”
Community members opposed to the current sexual education program also stated their worries that Planned Parenthood has an agenda to promote their business and gain clients. This idea has met opposition from the other side.
“There’s this proposition that the whole reason Planned Parenthood is in many schools across the state and across the country providing education is a sales pitch so they can get future clients for their clinics, and ultimately, future clients for abortions,” Nickerson said. “That is something I adamantly disagree with.”
Giglio argues that Planned Parenthood not only has an agenda to get new ‘clients’, but also believes that they are urging sex onto high school kids.
“Planned Parenthood is a business that sells sex,” said Giglio. “[They are] sexualizing young people, thereby to create a clientele for abortion and ‘health services.’”
Acalanes mom Jodie Schiller believes that the value differences is what brought the issue into the spotlight. However, she now believes that the politics has taken over and people are now arguing for the wrong reasons.
“When I see things like this handed out,” Schiller said, holding up the piece of paper that was handed out at the beginning of the meeting. “It just frustrates me. This isn’t about a value difference, this is about politics.”
For Acalanes mom Laura Zucker, Planned Parenthood had the best intentions for the students. She told the Board that they have her full support to make the best resolution for the students within the community.
“I want to speak clearly and unequivocally that our schools are not the place to voice your opinion on anti-choice and anti-gay agendas,” Zucker said. “I don’t want another penny of my taxpayer dollar going to fight frivolous threats, I support my Board to make decisions that are in the best interest of its students.”
California is one of the states that makes it law to not teach “abstinence only” sex education. Although public schools are allowed to not provide sex ed, they are, by law, not allowed to teach abstinence only sex ed.
In response to parental input at the meeting, the Acalanes School District made eight changes to the policy that would be brought to the Board for approval. The eight changes outlined the guidelines for any sex ed provider.
According to the final draft of the Prevention Instruction, before the district brings in an outside presenter for sex education to any sites, it must assure that the education course is in conformity with the Education Code 51930-51939.
This code would include confirming that speakers have medically accurate information, that the information is age-appropriate, and that instruction will be available to English and comprehensible by students with disabilities.
In addition, the District must check that no information teaches or promotes religion, and that the vendor’s mission statement is not in conflict with the education code.
Finally, the District must insure that the organization has no federal funds to promote abortions.
At the end of the meeting, there was a unanimous vote to make the eight revisions to the policy. Revisions made to Board Policy 6142.1 Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Instruction was to be replace 6142.1 Family Life/Sex Education. Board Policy 6142.2 AIDS Prevention Instruction was deleted.
“The policy and regulations, I think, will eliminate any problems we had this year,” Nickerson said. “I think if a school decides to bring in Planned Parenthood, many of the problems will be eliminated because of the policies and regulations.”