Sharing Information: What Does Transparency Look Like in Sex Education?
Updated: Jan 31
Updated and re-posted, October 2021
One of the most common questions we get from parents is, “How can I get more information about the lessons my child will receive at school?” Parents want transparency in sex education. “Transparency” means different things to different people. For many of the families we serve, the desire for transparency is driven by their desire to understand what’s being presented in their student’s sex education course, so they can better support their kids at home. And certainly some parents may have concerns about whether some content aligns with their values or about the readiness of their child to receive this education. Whatever the case may be, Health Connected takes this question seriously. Building trust with our community partners is essential to our work.
When folks understand our approach, they are likely to have more respect for the end product. It starts with the development of each of our courses. Each of our curricula are medically-accurate, research-informed, and developed based on best practices in the sexual health and education fields. All of our core curricula - Puberty Talk, Teen Talk Middle School, Teen Talk High School, and Teen Talk Adapted for All Abilities - have gone through at least one, and in some cases, multiple compliance reviews by California public health and education experts. Perhaps most importantly, they are field-tested and developed in close partnership with school districts, taking into account feedback from key stakeholders, including youth, parents, teachers, and clinicians. We constantly develop new activities to address the rapidly changing expectations for schools when it comes to sex education and feedback from our stakeholders.
Community-informed curriculum development is a start, but proactive engagement with families is what builds true confidence. By law, public schools must notify parents and guardians at least 14 days before sexual health instruction takes place. We try to make this as easy as possible for our partner school districts by providing a notification letter template that includes the topics to be covered and ways to learn more about the content to be presented. The notification letter gives families the chance to help the student and family process their emotional response and prepare for communication about this sometimes challenging topic prior to receiving sex ed. This is especially important for students that may have encountered a crisis related to sexual crimes or abuse. Families deserve and have the right to prepare, digest, and discuss together the topic ahead.
Many school districts we work with offer a curriculum informational session for parents to learn firsthand about the course content. These information sessions are tailored to each school community and allow us the greatest opportunity to explain the reasoning behind our activities and organizational philosophy. This gives the community the ability to consider specific parts of our curricula rather than imagine some nebulous idea of what might be included in this sex education. Not only is it important to show schools that we have nothing to hide, the resulting community dialogue is actually vital to our organizational development. Prior to COVID all of these information sessions were offered only in person, but in response to COVID, we began offering all of our curriculum information sessions online. This was a necessity to continue our work during the pandemic, but had the unexpected benefit of creating even more opportunities for transparency and engagement with families. In fact, we so appreciated the possibilities it opened up for engaging with families that we are now only offering our curriculum information sessions online indefinitely.
Lastly, for families that can’t attend an information session or simply want more information, we offer parent guides as a companion piece to each of our curricula. The guides provide broad context for each of the topics covered in our courses with discussion guides for families. Additionally, three years ago, in response to requests for more information from parents and school districts, we developed Lets-Talk.how, an online portal designed primarily for parents or caregivers whose children are receiving one of our courses. Lets-Talk.how provides information about our courses, examples of curriculum activities, research on sexual health education and adolescent development, and tips for families to engage in conversations about sexual health and relationships, among much else.
This can all be tricky to balance. All of our curricula are copyrighted materials – we have invested years of work developing and field-testing each of our curricula to make sure they meet Education Code requirements, are relevant and meaningful to students, support families of all kinds, and are consistent with research in sexual health education. Sometimes parents want to know why they can't simply access our curricula online, but providing all of our materials for free would put our content at risk. We have experienced portions of our materials being taken out of context to spread misinformation about the sexual health education we provide, jeopardizing the intention and care we’ve taken in developing every aspect of our curricula. Because of the care we have invested in developing all of our materials, we are able to sell our curricula to others to replicate our work elsewhere. The financial resources from our curriculum sales, along with our trainings, workshops, and instructional support are a critical source of revenue for us as a nonprofit organization.
All this to say that we value transparency. Sharing information about our curricula and programs helps us to build trust with communities enabling us to carry out the responsibility of being a community-based organization. Even if sometimes folks choose to use our materials to erode that trust, seeking transparency allows us to be true to our roots and nourish our role as an organization that thrives in the richness of community dialogue.
This post was updated in October 2021. It was originally developed with contributions from Hannah Brown, former Senior Health Educator & Social Media Coordinator; Abigail Karlin-Resnick, Executive Director; Vanessa Kellam, Parent Engagement Manager; Hannah Lopez, Impact & Engagement Manager; Avry Schellenbach, Youth Services Manager; and Arjun Sheth, Senior Health Educator; and Sarah Soto, former Director of Community Engagement.