CPS’ new sex ed policy doesn’t address important needs, advocates say

Teachers now will be required to undergo only a 90-minute training to earn a four-year certificate for sex ed.

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Sofia Penglase (top right), Aurelia Aguilar (top left) and other sexual health education advocates discuss CPS’ new policy with reporters.

Healing to Action/Screenshot

Sex education advocates are criticizing a newly approved Chicago Public Schools policy this week that they say doesn’t do enough to ensure qualified educators are teaching sexual health and doesn’t provide parents with enough resources to have conversations with their children at home.

Organizers with Healing to Action, an advocacy group that looks to address the root causes of gender-based violence, said they met with CPS officials and Board of Education members several times over the summer to share their views on how the district could improve its sexual health education.

The group said it found through a 2018 public records request that 70% of CPS schools weren’t properly implementing the existing sex ed requirements, with schools that serve majority Black and Brown students disproportionately falling short.

Karla Altmayer, the co-founder of Healing to Action, said the group was looking for clear mechanisms for accountability to implement sex ed, funding and resources for educator training and support for caregivers so they can understand the policy and reinforce lessons at home.

Instead, CPS’ new policy, passed unanimously by the Board of Education, included a reduction in teacher training and no new resources for parents or ways to hold schools accountable.

Altmayer said “the district addressed none of our concerns,” and that “this policy is not what our community needs.”

The new policy says students should be learning age-appropriate curriculum that teaches them about consent, healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and interpersonal violence — but parents should be allowed to opt their children out of those lessons. Sexual health resources and menstrual hygiene products should be available at all schools, the policy says.

CPS also kept in a line that says the “comprehensive curriculum emphasizes abstinence as a component of healthy sexual decision-making and the only protection that is 100% effective against unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV when transmitted sexually.”

Teachers now will be required to undergo only 90 minutes of training to earn a four-year certificate for sex ed. They previously needed to participate in a six-to-eight-hour training session. A principal must identify at least two teachers in a school to receive the training.

The district also says in the policy that it’s trying to mitigate the effects of inequities and create a comprehensive approach that’s applied consistently throughout the district, but it also “recognizes that this policy does not address the root cause of said inequities which may disproportionately impact our greatest needs groups.” The policy could continue to evolve, officials said.

Tarrah DeClemente, a manager of health promotion at CPS, told the school board at its virtual meeting earlier this week that the reduction in training was because of teachers’ complaints that it was too long. The condensed version means the district is now training 70 more teachers per month, she said.

“It just lends to the virtual environment, nobody wants to sit for six hours,” she said. “People are more engaged and ready to take out of the training what they need.”

In response to the concerns that 70% of schools hadn’t correctly implemented sex ed in 2018, CPS health chief Kenneth Fox called that year “ancient history.”

Board member Dwayne Truss, meanwhile, thanked CPS for apparently consulting the faith community in the creation of its policy. “That that’s something that’s really forward-thinking, and I just want to say thank you and acknowledge and appreciate that conversation,” Truss said.

A CPS spokesman did not answer questions about what role faith leaders had to play in the creation of the new sexual education policy.

Sofia Penglase, a senior at Payton College Prep, said her only sexual health education in high school was a class freshman year in which a teacher gave “inaccurate and potentially harmful” information.

“We want educators with a health or science background teaching this information,” Penglase said. “We can’t expect educators to rely on information that is four years old, especially with the pace of the evolution and understanding of gender and sexuality.”

Aurelia Aguilar, a member of Healing to Action, said she was disappointed by the new policy because it didn’t offer new resources for parents. She first got involved with the campaign at CPS because she realized her five kids didn’t know the concepts of consent or gender-based violence.

“As a survivor, it was important for my children to know about these important concepts,” Aguilar said through a Spanish-language translator. “After talking to my children about these issues, I saw a huge change in them. My daughter began to feel more confident and began to see her own power.

“Parent education is key to the solution to ensure that sex education is implemented, especially in communities like mine where there are many parents who never had anyone in their country or in their lives talking to them about these issues.”

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