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A Voice for the Hispanic Community in the Santa Barbara Schools Sex Ed Debate

I am a Hispanic mother of four children (ages 13, 11, 7 and 5) who attend school in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. In early February, I found out about the new state law, AB 329, that passed back in 2015 and the changes that came with it for health and sex education in the public schools.

I started investigating what was happening in my children’s schools and I found out about the new curriculum, Teen Talk Middle School, that the school board is trying to approve for children in the junior high schools. I was shocked with the information I found online regarding Teen Talk!

A couple of weeks later, I attended the Feb. 25 school board meeting and found out that the district had held five community/parent meetings about Teen Talk in January. I had not heard about the meetings because they were only announced through the ParentSquare program for seventh- and eighth-grade parents.

Also, the district described the community/parent meetings as “Health Education,” never mentioning that they were about the Teen Talk sex education curriculum. English is my second language so, in my mind, when someone says to me “Health,” I think of ways to improve your health (immune system, exercise, eat a healthy diet), not about sex.

More than 300 parents and community members showed up at the Feb. 25 school board meeting to oppose Teen Talk. In listening to information other parents had to say about Teen Talk, I felt violated with my rights as a parent!

The school wanting to teach my 11-year-old princess, soon to be 12 years old in late August, soon to attend seventh grade, about anal sex? About masturbation? About different places and ways to have sex? About rebelling and rejecting the people — mom and dad — who love her the most.

Also, to instruct and encourage her that if she doesn’t agree with what her parents are teaching her to look for another adult who shares her same thinking? To teach her that she has the right to have an abortion behind her parents’ back without permission? To confuse them regarding their sexual gender?

EXCUSE ME! BUT NO! This is my daughter and these are my children! I birthed them, I love them and provide for them! I will not let the school go beyond its limits with my children and my family. I firmly believe that it is the responsibility and the decision of mom and dad to teach their children about sexual education according to their own family values.

Being a Hispanic woman, mother and daughter, I understand that some Hispanic parents are not open to speaking with their teenagers about sex. That is why I am not against sexual education in the schools. But Teen Talk is offensive and wrong, and it is encouraging all kinds of inappropriate behaviors that our family does not value! We want sex education for our children but NOT Teen Talk!

At the same Feb. 25 school board meeting, there were Hispanic teenagers from local high schools. They were wearing Future Leaders of America T-shirts and all of them were in favor of Teen Talk. Their parents were not present at the board meeting, and I am certain that their parents do not have a clue about what Teen Talk teaches and encourages their students.

The reason I’m certain about this is because the district has NOT done a good job in informing the Hispanic community. Some Hispanic parents don’t know how to operate the ParentSquare app. Some don’t even have the ParentSquare app. Many parents who do have it don’t check the notifications because they work too much to pay their extremely high rent here in Santa Barbara.

What works best for the Hispanic community is the “Friday folder” that comes home every week in Spanish. However, the school district never used the Friday folder to notify me or any other sixth-grade parent about the January parent/community workshops on Teen Talk and the sex ed curriculum. These sixth-grade students will be attending seventh grade in the fall. We should have been notified!

The night that I left the school board meeting I began my mission to spread the word in the Hispanic community regarding Teen Talk. I give information and talk to as many Hispanic parents as I possibly can. I’ve talked to them in the school parking lot while waiting for our children to get out of class. I have shared information with my friends. I have had an informational meeting at my home. I’ve made an announcement on the local Hispanic radio station.

So far, all the Hispanic parents I have spoken to did not have a clue about the new sex education curriculum and Teen Talk. They were all shocked by the information I provided! All of them oppose Teen Talk, because of our Hispanic values and Latin American culture that is the opposite of everything this new Teen Talk Curriculum wants to teach our children.

I personally went to the Santa Barbara Unified School District office to look at the Teen Talk curriculum. I asked for the Spanish copy of the Teen Talk curriculum but the district didn’t have one. The district only has a few pages in Spanish and the pages it provided are lacking extremely important information.

This is discouraging, disappointing and disrespectful of our Hispanic community. I am not only voicing my personal concern, but I also write on behalf of many parents who only speak Spanish. We are asking for accessible, transparent and clear information in Spanish regarding the sex ed curriculum because we believe that this is extremely important. Every parent needs to know what is being talked about since so many students in our schools are of Latino origin.

Lastly, I want to plead with the school board to take into consideration the HEART: Healthy Education and Relationship Training curriculum. The HEART curriculum complies with the AB 329 law and is family friendly. Sex education in the schools should be respectful and teach students the basics, like risks of STDs and, when having sex out of marriage, how to use protection. Also, how to use their voice to speak up for themselves and to say NO if someone touches them or behaves inappropriately.

The HEART curriculum works together with the teacher, student, and parents to educate about sex — but not to indoctrinate. It upholds abstinence and the parents’ right to implement their own family values.

It is important for the Santa Barbara Unified School District to let parents choose between HEART and the Teen Talk curriculums. These children are ours and we are responsible for their upbringing, health, life and education.

— Janeth Mendoza is a South Coast resident, protector of her children and a voice for the Hispanic community. The opinions expressed are her own.