Fairfax County Public School Students Want Sex Education Reform After Roe
Separately, a month before the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Fairfax County School Board postponed action on the recommendations of a committee convened to discuss its sex education program, known as the Family Life Engagement (FLE) program. The committee had recommended several major changes, including creating sex education classes for students in grades four through eight co-ed, rather than segregated by gender. Now, the school system plans to gather community feedback on this idea next fall before taking any final action.
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These twin developments at the national and local levels have alarmed some students, said Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter, 14, a member of LGBTQ student group the Pride Liberation Project. The group drew up a list of demands, including the immediate adoption of the recommendations of the FLE commission. And, to increase the pressure on district officials, she and about three dozen other students, in conjunction with the Fairfax NAACP, staged a rally outside a school board meeting Thursday night.
“Why we’re doing this is because it’s pretty clear that this whole country is at a tipping point with the reasoning of the Dobbs decision,” Vizcardo-Lichter said. “It’s very clear that the Supreme Court can no longer be trusted to provide key protections for marginalized communities…it’s important that our school districts recognize this and act.”
In addition to asking the district to adopt the recommendations of the FLE committee, the student group is asking Fairfax to expand its FLE program to include detailed discussions of contraception and reproductive health clinics. The Pride Liberation Project also urges Fairfax to “explore access to contraception in our schools and expand the FLE curriculum generally,” Vizcardo-Lichter said.
Asked about student demands on Thursday, Fairfax spokeswoman Helen Lloyd said in a statement – referring to the proposal to end gender segregation in sex education – that “it is something that the school board will review this upcoming school year, as indicated during the work session in June.”
The demand that the school system provide students with access to contraception “does not fall within the scope and purpose of… teaching French as a foreign language”, wrote school spokeswoman Julie Moult. , in an email.
The Fairfax FLE curriculum includes K-12 instruction on the topics of “Family Life and Community Relations”, “Abstinence Education”, “The Value of Postponing Sexual Activity”, “the benefits of adoption as a positive choice in the event of an unwanted pregnancy” and “human sexuality and human reproduction,” according to the district’s website. Parents are permitted to review the full curriculum programs and withdraw their students from classes if they wish.
According to Moult, instruction on sex education topics such as puberty, which begins in the fourth grade, is offered separately by gender until the eighth grade and in co-ed settings thereafter.
Fairfax maintains a standing committee to advise school officials on the FLE program. The group meets throughout the school year and presents an annual report in the spring. For the 2021-2022 school year, the 35-member committee included high school students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board appointees, health professionals, county residents and members of various religious communities.
In May, the committee made recommendations to the school board, including adding a discussion of “gender identity” to a Grade 10 lesson on “human sexuality,” removing a video from testicular self-examination from a 10th grade lesson and “[exploring] teaching about gender identity in elementary school and a more inclusive curriculum overall. His most controversial suggestion, however, was to end gender segregation in fourth-grade classes on puberty as well as in fifth-eighth grade classes on puberty, reproductive systems, the reproductive process, infections. sexually transmitted diseases and abstinence.
The committee wrote in its report that the segregation of students by biological sex was “not inclusive” of LGBTQ students.
Additionally, “dividing students into classes of boys and girls sends a message that bodies different from their own should not be discussed and are mysterious,” the committee members wrote in the report. “When students are separated by boys and girls, it affirms a rigid, anatomy-based binary.”
The report noted that several nearby school districts — including those in Arlington County in Virginia and Alexandria City, as well as Prince George’s County in Maryland — primarily offer co-ed sex education classes. The report, however, acknowledges that many other regional districts continue to segregate students by gender, including those in Virginia’s Loudoun County, Prince William County, the City of Chesapeake and the City of Suffolk. We do not know what the situation is at the national level.
The idea of co-ed classes prompted immediate pushback from some parents, according to Stacy Langton, a 52-year-old mother of two Fairfax students who pushed to remove books from Fairfax school libraries that she deemed inappropriate for their sexual content. Langton, who said she attends all school board meetings, said parents often object to combining the sexes in sex education lessons – something she herself strongly opposes.
“It would make my children very, very uncomfortable. My son is still in that phase where the girls are gross,” Langton said. “I just think it would be incredibly embarrassing…and it’s really not appropriate, and I think most parents don’t want that for their kids.”
At a meeting in May, the school board decided to “pursue further study and extensive community review before the board acts on the recommendations,” according to Fairfax documents posted online. This means that all revisions to Fairfax’s sex ed curriculum are on hiatus until at least the fall.
This is atypical for the sex-ed curriculum review process, according to Fairfax spokesperson Moult. In a normal year, the school board votes on the report and recommendations of the FLE commission in June. The delay is “due to the overlap of the schedule with the end of the school year and the importance of the proposed changes”, Moult said.
Meanwhile, some students have decided they are tired of waiting.
About 40 of them showed up outside Luther Jackson Middle School – the school board meeting location, near a main road – on Thursday holding rainbow flags and decorated handmade posters slogans such as “HONK IF YOU SUPPORT TRANS KIDS” and “LGBTQ+ RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS. Led by a teenager with a megaphone, they chanted, “Co-ed! FLE!”
Across the street were a handful of parents who regularly attended board meetings, including Langton. These parents hoisted photos of school board members plastered with the word “Resign.”
Vizcardo-Lichter, who led the protest and identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, said all about Fairfax’s sex ed curriculum — both its form and substance — feels inadequate for the national moment. . She said the segregation of students by gender is hurtful and exclusive, and it creates a “hostile environment” for transgender and non-binary students, those who do not fully identify as male or female.
“If there are transgender students locked up, they would feel uncomfortable being placed in a class that doesn’t match their gender, but they can’t tell because they’re locked up or that not sure,” she said. “For non-binary students, it’s upsetting and dangerous to be told that you either have to go to the girls’ class or the boys’ class.”
She is also deeply concerned about the content of sex education lessons, which she says omit any useful information about contraception: “In practice, it’s basically the teachers who repeat ‘Abstinence 100! There is no other option!’ ”
Asked about Vizcardo-Lichter’s claims, Fairfax spokeswoman Moult wrote in a statement that “abstinence and contraception are included in the instruction. Contraception is included in education from grades 8 to 12. She wrote that Grade 10 FLE classes include mention of Planned Parenthood “as a resource for students dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.”
Now that deer disappeared, Vizcardo-Lichter said, what she sees as a shortage of information could prove deadly for some students.
“Now that reproductive rights are restricted across the country, it’s important that students have access to an evidence-based sex education curriculum that actually talks about reproductive rights,” she said. “And we need to recognize that my peers and I need to be equipped to talk about these issues in a safe and respectful way.”