In highschool, Jamie Cutter sat by way of lectures on abstinence in a metropolis that had one of many highest charges of juvenile being pregnant in California. Practically 20 years later, she teaches the sex-ed class she needs she’d taken again then.
Sitting at her desk in a vibrant and breezy classroom tucked away on the Delta Excessive College 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 give attention to this work. She wrote “Inclusive Intercourse Schooling,” a curriculum for highschool college students, and has been educating 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 reminiscent of psychological well being, danger discount, and drug and alcohol prevention. Cutter strives to provide her college students one thing she by no means received in highschool — information and the liberty to query.
For practically a decade, Cutter’s curriculum unfold by way of faculties with out controversy. However 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’s abruptly a rise in queer identities simply due to studying about it at school,” Cutter stated. “After which, sadly, that turns into a political challenge for some of us and it turns right into a left-versus-right factor.”
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 discovered myself educating my pals the right way to use condoms and telling individuals the place Deliberate Parenthood was,” Cutter stated. “That was one thing the academics couldn’t say something about.”
The expertise impressed Cutter to write down her personal curriculum when, in 2013, she took over because the sex-ed instructor at Delta — a constitution highschool for youths 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 seemed on the state requirements and deliberate classes to fulfill them. However even college students who had taken sex-ed lessons elsewhere stated a number of the fabric was new to them.
“Each query on this class is legitimate,” stated Sion Erkiletian, a junior at Delta Excessive College who identifies as nonbinary. “This can be a house we’re allowed to be susceptible, and also you’re additionally allowed to be confused.”
The curriculum started to unfold in 2014 after Cutter began working with the Secure Colleges Mission, a Santa Cruz County useful resource group for queer youth and educators. With a grant from the Group Basis 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 faculty districts all through California, in Oregon and as far-off as Amsterdam have bought Cutter’s curriculum. She has skilled academics at seven native faculties and the Pajaro Valley Unified College District has adopted it as its official curriculum.
“Jamie likes to disrupt the system to raised meet the wants of her college students,” stated Ryane Ortiz, a instructor at Aptos Excessive College who acquired intercourse educator coaching from Cutter in 2018. “Once I met her, I used to be instantly impressed and captivated by her will to do what is true by our college students and our neighborhood.”
Since 2016, the California Wholesome 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 colleges provide a curriculum night time earlier than the college 12 months begins the place dad and mom can evaluation the curriculum and ask questions. Traditionally, this was not properly attended at Aptos, Ortiz stated. Once they began holding the conferences just about in the course of the pandemic, attendance elevated, and apprehension did, too. On-line studying gave dad and mom new perception into their youngsters’s lessons, and a few have been involved by what they noticed.
“The principle matter each time, yearly, is dad and mom being cautious or cautious or simply not wanting their youngster to study queer/trans identities,” Ortiz stated.
“I’ve been listening to that oldsters are desirous to choose their children out of simply the ‘homosexual stuff,’” Cutter stated. However state legislation doesn’t allow faculties to show models inside a curriculum selectively. So Cutter tells involved dad and mom that this unit doesn’t embody 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 forestall unintended penalties, together with being pregnant.
Most dad and mom have accepted this rationalization, Cutter stated. However as gender and sexuality have joined earlier flashpoints like COVID restrictions and racial politics within the tradition battle highlight, opposition has turn into extra organized.
“For a very long time, it was the masks, then it was essential race concept, then it was social-emotional studying,” stated Tracy Henderson, founding father of the Monterey-based group California Mother and father United, one of many teams calling for extra parental management. “Now the recent matter, if you’ll, is the trans, gender identification, gender-affirming stuff they’re pushing in our faculties.”
“We have to return to only math, English, writing,” Henderson stated.
In September, Henderson joined representatives from different native dad and mom’ rights organizations — together with the high-profile, and lately scandal-embroiled, nationwide right-wing advocacy group Mothers for Liberty, at a gathering in Watsonville. Audio system denigrated inclusive intercourse schooling, criticized laws and raised concern about express references in literature. Though fewer than 100 individuals attended, this occasion was the primary of its type in Santa Cruz.
One speaker, Dalila Epperson, is operating as a Republican to characterize District 30 within the state Meeting, overlaying a lot of the Central Coast from Santa Cruz to Pismo Seashore. Her marketing campaign is concentrated round dad and mom’ rights to decide on what their youngsters be taught.
“Our representatives simply aren’t listening to their constituents any longer,” Epperson stated. “That’s why I’m operating.”
Whereas Epperson has little likelihood of unseating incumbent Daybreak Addis, a Democrat, Cutter is anxious concerning the influence of controversies round LGBTQ+ points and inclusive intercourse schooling in faculties.
“I do know it’s having an impact on academics, as a result of academics really feel anxious about what dad and mom are going to accuse them of subsequent,” Cutter stated.
In November of 2021, two academics at Buena Vista Center College in Salinas in Monterey County have been accused in a web based publication of “efforts to subvert dad and mom” on children’ gender identities and sexual orientation, after they gave a presentation on operating the college’s gay-straight alliance on the California Lecturers Affiliation’s annual LGBTQ+ Points Convention. Each academics have been cleared of wrongdoing by an impartial legislation agency employed to research by the Spreckels Union College 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 father or mother who claimed the 2 academics had “transitioned” her daughter, and settled the case in June for $100,000.
Regardless of the rising controversy round educating about gender and sexuality, college students like Samantha Younggren, a senior at Delta Excessive College, stay robust supporters of Cutter’s curriculum.
“I’m glad we’re studying extra than simply the right way to forestall being pregnant,” Younggren stated. “Jamie’s intercourse ed class completely modified the way in which I view a number of issues.”