By Michael Hernandez
THOUSAND OAKS—The Conejo Valley Unified School Board (CVUSD) clashed with community members who gave public comments asking for the Board to formalize the district website position of “no” elementary instruction in regards to the California Healthy Youth Act—AB 329—which does not require any sex education curriculum for the early years.
Board member Jenny Fitzgerald said she felt “unsafe” as vocal parents spoke out to keep such instruction from the elementary schools and Thousand Oaks police were summoned to Tuesday’s meeting (Editor’s Note: The police had been at the meeting earlier) as the district began visibly shifting from its previous position.
Meanwhile, Supt. Mark McLaughlin stated that the district’s position which had been not to teach “gender identity nor gender expression” at the early ages had changed due to the entrance of two transgender kindergarten students and the district was now “providing support” for young transgender students because of “campus safety” issues.
Some of the eight public comments included:
- Patty Jones, who stated that her oldest daughter was appreciative of her mother’s support during her bisexual transgender high school years. The Christian conservative mother quoted 11 published studies about gender dysphoria and the importance of not providing kids with puberty blockers and in assisting them accept their own bodies;
- Tim Thompson: “The school board says one thing but you do another. You said you would not teach below the seventh grade. This is not a reality. You need to regain trust from the community. One way is to side with the community by nothing being taught below the seventh grade. I am not talking about just sex education but in any other subjects. Otherwise, you need to give advance notice to parents.” (Editor’s Note: Pastor Tim Thompson is founder of Our Watch Now. To find out more go to: https://www.ourwatchnow.com/.)
- Tim (chose only to give his first name): “Let kids be kids. Let them be innocent,” said the speaker who called himself a conservative atheist. “The issue is too complicated when an atheist and the church agree on the topic of sexuality. Stop slapping labels on your opponents as evangelicals or evil. This is not helpful. Hang up your egos. Solve this problem for all our children.”
The 90-minute board discussion began with an update presentation on implementation of the California Healthy Youth Act—AB 329—given by Luis Lichtl, Assistant Superintendent, Instructional Service and Dr. Lisa Miller, Assistant Superintendent, Student Support Services.
The presentation had a three-fold objective:
- Propose the reconstitution of a Family Life Committee (which had been established on Nov. 11, 1987 through board action) to review supplementary materials and make recommendations to the Board of Education;
- To deal with a request from a community member (Editor’s Note: Tim Cooley, President of the California Parent Alliance, later self-identified himself) to amend Board Policy 6142.1 Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Instruction and formalize that the district’s verbal commitment to keep “instruction in sexual health, HIV prevention, gender identity and gender expression” from being taught in grades K-6 (Editor’s Note: AB 329 does not mandate this instruction at the state level.); and
- Notification that the district had received materials from another community member (not identified) that would support K-6 diversity instruction.
The proposal for the 13-member Family Life Committee consisted of the following superintendent appointments: three teachers (one from each grade span); two representatives from the religious community; a school nurse; a representative of the medical community; two representatives from the PTA appointed by the PTA Executive Board; two representatives from the District Advisory Committee appointed by the DAC Executive Board; a board member appointed by the Board President and the Director of Curriculum Development (Editor’s Note: The Director of Curriculum Development position no longer exists in the district and would most fall to the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction or a designee).
The Family Life Committee has not met since Nov. 21, 2011 when the committee reviewed grade 4-6 Human Growth and development videos, approved purchase, and made previews.
In regards to a Family Life Committee: Board member Bill Gorback said he wanted “feedback from community members, not just those in the PTA”; Board member Jenny Fitzgerald wanted representation from all the District Advisory Committees—the special education and English learners and questioned the need for any members of the religious community; Board member Sandee Everett supported feedback from the religious community and wanted representation from multiple parent organizations; Board member Cindy Goldberg suggested the district use the literature review model rather than the staff proposed Family Life Committee so as “to broaden it to the largest representation of the community”; Board President Betsy Connolly suggested that staff pursue a hybrid of both the core literature review process and the proposed Family Life Committee.
Connolly then went on to state how in previous years (decades ago), “how many children were left out…not just transgender kids, the lesbian and gay families…children who had two moms were left out of the conversation in the classroom.”
Everett called Connolly’s comments “offensive to a lot of people…these are little kids…What we are talking about is sexually graphic material (which) is not appropriate for young children.”
Fitzgerald responded by saying, “We are not voting on a proposed curriculum. It is a derelict of duty as board members” not to move forward. “We have various views in our community on what is best.”
Everett’s response: “I lost a lot of respect for the California Department of Education when I saw the framework. It goes beyond the law. We need to tell the community what is our intentions.”
The school board voted 4-1 against (with Everett voting for) changing board policy 6142.1 to read that “instruction in sexual health, HIV prevention, gender identity and gender expression instruction will not be provided in grade K-6 in any subject, assembly, special lesson or in any other manner.”
Supt. Mark McLaughlin also disclosed that the CVUSD had received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation that he had not had time to review.
Two additional public comments were given during the next board item (which was the approval of amendments to Board Policy and Replacement of Administrative Regulation 6020 on Parent Involvement – Title I):
- Tim Cooley: “Parent involvement requires transparency by the district and the board. Your vote 4-1 against (adopting a district policy stating there will be no elementary instruction for the California Healthy Youth Act—AB 329) shows that you are “non transparent.” We don’t want to be “blindsided like other school districts…It is not your job to raise (the kids). It is ours. We have the right to raise them.” (Editor’s Note: Tim Cooley is president of the California Parent Alliance–a new statewide parent group advocating for parent rights started in the Conejo Valley. For more information go to: https://californiaparentalliance.org/).
- Carlos Velasco: “I’m an Oak Park parent who graduated from CVUSD. I am a Marine…Mexican-American with two black cousins and a Jewish wife” who is tired of diversity and inclusivity meaning only “gender identity and gender expression…We need to appreciate real diversity like my home.” (Editor’s Note: Carlos Velasco tried to give a public comment during public comments on the California Healthy Youth Act but was told by Board President Board Betsy Connolly that public discussion had ended.)
Meanwhile, earlier in the board meeting, a resolution (#19/20-05) supporting National Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2019) was approved by a vote of 5-0 after a motion by board member Bill Gorbach and seconded by board member Jenny Fitzgerald. Gorbach then proceeded to read the board resolution aloud.
Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].