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    Conejo Valley School Board | There Might Be A Problem – Religion is a Protected Class



    By Janet Stephenson

    The CVUSD school board just might have a problem with certain protected classes of students, particularly those of diverse ethnicity and religions detailed under Title 5, California Code of Regulations, § 4900(a). It’s unfortunate, but some school board members have made comments in social media regarding parents of faiths they don’t ascribe to, or who have a belief system they consider unacceptable, and have showed impatience in listening to parents of diverse religious backgrounds who voice concerns over the upcoming gender and sexual education curriculum. 

    The law, however, protects all religions, whether or not they are considered by school board members to be acceptable. The actions and remarks of these members now raises the possibility that if the CVUSD school board members have a problem with religion, unless it’s the right kind of religion, then they are also going to have a problem with protecting the rights of diverse cultures and faiths, as required by law, when they move forward with determining future curriculum.

    Board members obviously have the right to antagonistic feelings towards people of faith that they disagree with. What they don’t have the right to, is to express that antagonism on their school board social media pages or in any other forums where they are officially representing the district as a school board member. In fact, the California Department of Education has made it clear that school districts are supposed to work with people of diverse faiths and ethnicity, especially when it concerns sensitive topics, such as choosing the upcoming curriculum regarding gender and sexuality. 

    A publication by the California Department of Education, Putting It All Together, is provided to school districts as a game plan in addressing sensitive topics within their communities. This particular publication addresses state-mandated HIV/AIDS prevention education in California middle and high schools. In it, the California Department of Education, states that districts should work with concerned religious groups in their community.

    According to the California Department of Education, “Schools and communities need to tackle these difficult issues with a cooperative rather than an adversarial model. They should recognize that the public education system is a unique environment, where compulsory attendance of minors requires respect for differing values and for social concerns still being debated in the culture.”

    They go on to define culture as “not only the ethnicity of a person, but also the family structure, home environment, community, religious values, and even personal attributes that compose a person’s experience and worldview… To meet the needs of diverse student populations, schools should…[r]espect the cultural differences of each staff member and student,” and that they should create culturally sensitive classrooms.

    The Department of Education affirms, “Almost all religious faiths have specific teachings about sexual practices. Care must be taken to ensure that public educators do not discount these teachings,” and that they should “[r]efer to religious faith or values as a part of the decision-making models, when appropriate. These values can be affirmed while taking care not to endorse any specific religious faith or belittle students who have no religious practice.”

    To emphasize the sensitive nature of this education, it states, “HIV/STD prevention education deals with areas of sexuality and religious conviction about which society is deeply divided. Learning to engage those differences in an environment that must be impartial to all is never easy, but it can be done. In recent years, common-ground thinking has emerged as one tool to help educators clarify the role of religion in the public education environment. It can help teachers appreciate the cultural diversity of their community, disarm conflict at its earliest stages, and provide language that can respect different views without undermining religious faith.” And at the end of the document, the Department of Education asserts that families and faith organizations have an important role to play in a student’s education. 

    The recent participation of concerned parents of diverse faiths at CVUSD school board meetings unequivocally tells the school board that there is a large population of families with religious values in the community who have concerns about future curriculum changes regarding gender and sexual education. When one considers the California Department of Education’s recommendations in working with religious communities in their Putting It All Together publication for school districts, I have to wonder how certain members of the CVUSD school board are going to overcome their own prejudice against certain faiths to be able to consider the interests of the protected classes of all cultural and religious students whose faiths are in conflict with new non-scientific theories of biological gender, the introduction of graphic sexual material, and the teaching of proscribed sexual practices, which may be proposed in new curriculum for the 2020/2021 school year and beyond. 

    Will the CVUSD school board follow the recommendations of the Department of Education and work towards common-ground thinking, appreciating the cultural diversity of their community, not discounting them, and provide a curriculum that respects different views without undermining religious faith? Will they appropriately refer to religious faith or values as part of their decision making models, and will they be cooperative, rather than adversarial, as they develop curriculum? Will the CVUSD school board be able to protect the rights of all protected classes under The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act which includes neither intimidating nor interfering with a student’s free practice of religion? 

    Time will tell, but from some recent comments I’ve seen online and heard in meetings, there just might be a problem.

    Janet Stephenson is a resident of Thousand Oaks

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