In highschool, Jamie Cutter sat by means of lectures on abstinence in a metropolis that had one of many highest charges of teenybopper being pregnant in California. Nearly twenty years later, she teaches the sex-ed class she needs she’d taken again then.
Sitting at her desk in a shiny and breezy classroom tucked away on the Delta High School campus within the Santa Cruz County city of Aptos, Cutter wears a purple T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Queer.” She is an out-and-proud educator, but it surely wasn’t her sexual orientation that impressed her to concentrate on this work. She wrote “Inclusive Sex Education,” a curriculum for highschool college students, and has been instructing it for the previous 10 years as a result of she noticed firsthand what occurs with out it.
The 16-week course goes past primary sex-ed, overlaying points resembling psychological well being, danger discount, and drug and alcohol prevention. Cutter strives to provide her college students one thing she by no means acquired in highschool — information and the liberty to query.
For almost a decade, Cutter’s curriculum unfold by means of faculties with out controversy. But with the politicization of sexual orientation and gender identification in America, some dad and mom are actually objecting. Even in Santa Cruz, a liberal haven in a deep blue county, inclusive intercourse schooling is turning into divisive.
“It’s not like there is suddenly an increase in queer identities just because of learning about it in school,” Cutter stated. “And then, unfortunately, that becomes a political issue for some folks and it turns into a left-versus-right thing.”
Even at her personal highschool in Santa Maria, on the southern finish of California’s Central Coast, again within the mid-2000s, Cutter grew to become a covert intercourse educator for fellow college students who have been poorly served by an abstinence-based curriculum. Cutter’s mother, who was a nurse, taught her the ins and outs of sexual well being at house.
“I found myself teaching my friends how to use condoms and telling people where Planned Parenthood was,” Cutter stated. “That was something the teachers could not say anything about.”
The expertise impressed Cutter to jot down her personal curriculum when, in 2013, she took over because the sex-ed trainer at Delta — a constitution highschool for teenagers who haven’t discovered success in conventional school rooms.
Cutter didn’t suppose her curriculum was all that revolutionary when she wrote it. She merely appeared on the state requirements and deliberate classes to fulfill them. But even college students who had taken sex-ed lessons elsewhere stated a whole lot of the fabric was new to them.
“Every question in this class is valid,” stated Sion Erkiletian, a junior at Delta High School who identifies as nonbinary. “This is a space we’re allowed to be vulnerable, and you’re also allowed to be confused.”
The curriculum started to unfold in 2014 after Cutter began working with the Safe Schools Project, a Santa Cruz County useful resource group for queer youth and educators. With a grant from the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, they developed a curriculum information and skilled native academics on implementation. The third version got here out in 2022.
Since its debut, academics and college districts all through California, in Oregon and as distant as Amsterdam have bought Cutter’s curriculum. She has skilled academics at seven native faculties and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District has adopted it as its official curriculum.
“Jamie loves to disrupt the system to better meet the needs of her students,” stated Ryane Ortiz, a trainer at Aptos High School who acquired intercourse educator coaching from Cutter in 2018. “When I met her, I was immediately inspired and captivated by her will to do what is right by our students and our community.”
Since 2016, the California Healthy Youth Act has required excessive faculties throughout the state to show complete intercourse schooling and HIV prevention, inclusive of gender identification and sexual orientation.
Most faculties provide a curriculum night time earlier than the varsity yr begins the place dad and mom can evaluate the curriculum and ask questions. Historically, this was not effectively attended at Aptos, Ortiz stated. When they began holding the conferences just about in the course of the pandemic, attendance elevated, and apprehension did, too. Online studying gave dad and mom new perception into their youngsters’s lessons, and a few have been involved by what they noticed.
“The main topic every time, every year, is parents being cautious or wary or just not wanting their child to learn about queer/trans identities,” Ortiz stated.
“I have been hearing that parents are wanting to opt their kids out of just the ‘gay stuff,’” Cutter stated. But state regulation doesn’t allow faculties to show items inside a curriculum selectively. So Cutter tells involved dad and mom that this unit doesn’t embrace any data on sexual acts. She teaches it as a result of all college students have a sexual orientation and gender identification, and they should know what which means.
Cutter additionally reminds dad and mom that research present that complete intercourse schooling delays the onset of sexual exercise and helps stop unintended penalties, together with being pregnant.
Most dad and mom have accepted this clarification, Cutter stated. But as gender and sexuality have joined earlier flashpoints like COVID restrictions and racial politics within the tradition struggle highlight, opposition has develop into extra organized.
“For a long time, it was the masks, then it was critical race theory, then it was social-emotional learning,” stated Tracy Henderson, founding father of the Monterey-based group California Parents United, one of many teams calling for extra parental management. “Now the hot topic, if you will, is the trans, gender identity, gender-affirming stuff they’re pushing in our schools.”
“We need to go back to just math, English, writing,” Henderson stated.
In September, Henderson joined representatives from different native dad and mom’ rights organizations — together with the high-profile, and just lately scandal-embroiled, nationwide right-wing advocacy group Moms for Liberty, at a gathering in Watsonville. Speakers denigrated inclusive intercourse schooling, criticized laws and raised concern about express references in literature. Although fewer than 100 individuals attended, this occasion was the primary of its sort in Santa Cruz.
One speaker, Dalila Epperson, is working as a Republican to symbolize District 30 within the state Assembly, overlaying many of the Central Coast from Santa Cruz to Pismo Beach. Her marketing campaign is concentrated round dad and mom’ rights to decide on what their youngsters be taught.
“Our representatives just aren’t listening to their constituents any longer,” Epperson stated. “That’s why I’m running.”
While Epperson has little likelihood of unseating incumbent Dawn Addis, a Democrat, Cutter is anxious in regards to the impression of controversies round LGBTQ+ points and inclusive intercourse schooling in faculties.
“I know it’s having an effect on teachers, because teachers feel anxious about what parents are going to accuse them of next,” Cutter stated.
In November of 2021, two academics at Buena Vista Middle School in Salinas in Monterey County have been accused in an internet e-newsletter of “efforts to subvert parents” on children’ gender identities and sexual orientation, after they gave a presentation on working the varsity’s gay-straight alliance on the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference. Both academics have been cleared of wrongdoing by an unbiased regulation agency employed to research by the Spreckels Union School District, however have since resigned from their roles.
Epperson was amongst those that spoke out in opposition to the academics at a charged board assembly of the Spreckels district, shortly after the problem blew up. The district was later sued by a guardian who claimed the 2 academics had “transitioned” her daughter, and settled the case in June for $100,000.
Despite the rising controversy round instructing about gender and sexuality, college students like Samantha Younggren, a senior at Delta High School, stay sturdy supporters of Cutter’s curriculum.
“I’m glad we’re learning more than just how to prevent pregnancy,” Younggren stated. “Jamie’s sex ed class totally changed the way I view a lot of things.”