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Learning to Walk the Talk: Sex Ed in Oakland Schools

While the California state law on sexuality education is often seen as more comprehensive than many other states, it shouldn’t be assumed that all California students are receiving quality sexuality education. In fact, according to a recent report, Let’s Get It On, by the Oakland-based reproductive justice organization Forward Together, there is a huge disconnect between policy and reality in Oakland’s public schools.

Currently, California does not require schools to teach sexuality education, but they are required to teach HIV/AIDS education to students at least once in middle school and once in high school. Further, if schools do teach sexuality education, they must follow certain guidelines.[1]

If taught, sexuality education instruction must:

  • be age-appropriate;
  • be medically accurate;
  • be appropriate for pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and pupils with disabilities;
  • not promote or teach religious doctrine;
  • encourage parent-child communication about sexuality;
  • include information about abstinence; and
  • provide information on methods of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) beginning in the seventh grade.[2]

The report compiled data through focus groups and over 500 surveys of high school students in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It found that in 2012, more than half of the high school students in the OUSD didn't receive any sexuality education. The report also noted that, for some young people, schools are the only place they get any information at all on the subject. For example, 33% of Asian-American students surveyed indicated that they had never heard anything from their parents about sex, compared to 18% of African-American students. In addition, 46% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students reported that their parents don't talk to them at all about sex, compared to 27% of heterosexual students.[3]

Let’s Get It Onhighlights what many others around the county are also finding out—getting quality policies in place is a great first step, but putting those policies into effect can be very complicated and time consuming. Without the proper direction, budgeted resources, and supportive agencies, good policies will only go so far. Forward Together is working to re-prioritize sexuality education in their community, and they are not alone. Joanna Locke, director of Health and Wellness in OUSD's Family, Schools and Community Partnerships department said of their students, “we should be building their capacity to take ownership of [their health], make healthy decisions, and support healthy choices in their friends, families, and communities.”[4]

[3]Corey Hill, “Sex Ed Still Lags in Oakland Schools,” East Bay Express, January 1, 2014, accessed on January 22, 2014,