Bixby Center Research Project on the California Healthy Youth Act

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Dr. Paula Tavrow (Bixby Program Director) and Marta Bornstein (Bixby Program Assistant), together with Jasmine Uysal (CHS ’17), Katie Eyberg ( CHS ’18), Gillian Silver (CHS ’18), Amy E. Alterman (CHS ’18, WAC PhD Candidate) and Melissa Papp-Green (CHS ’15) have launched a Bixby action research project entitled “Building and testing a monitoring and feedback mechanism for the new California Healthy Youth Act.”

The community partner in this project is Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network) and youth leaders from high schools in Los Angeles county and environs.

Background:
In mid-2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Healthy Youth Act (AB 329), which mandates that sexual health education will be taught at least once in middle school and once in high school across the state. The bill updated and strengthened existing requirements for HIV prevention education and sexual health education to ensure that students receive the education that is accurate, comprehensive, and inclusive. This bill also stated that education should be “affirmative” of LGBTQ identities, instead of just “inclusive,” which is the first time that a state has taken this positive step. The Act followed on a ruling by a Fresno judge that access to medically appropriate sex education is an “important public right.” It comes at a time when rates of STDs are on the rise in California (particularly among young people) and 80% of teen pregnancies are unintended. Moreover, LGBTQ youth have often found that the health education offered in California schools has been biased, stigmatizing and incomplete.

Unfortunately, the state of California did not provide any additional funding for implementation or enforcement of the Healthy Youth Act. In fact, the California legislature threatened to kill the bill if language was included that mandated in-service training for classroom teachers in comprehensive sexual health education. Instead, Section 51935(d) states that “A school district may expand HIV in-service training to cover the topic of comprehensive sexual health education in order for the school district personnel who provide comprehensive sexual health education to learn new developments in the scientific understanding of sexual health.” This is creating confusion and uneven implementation of the new law. Currently, there is only one person, the HIV/STD Prevention Education Consultant at the California Department of Education, who is responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the Healthy Youth Act.

Project Description:
With support from the Dean’s Community Partnership Grant program, we are developing a model to monitor and provide feedback to California high schools on their compliance with the new sexual health education provisions of the new California Healthy Youth Act. As with many progressive laws, enforcement is difficult to achieve and requires creativity in the face of limited resources. While Comprehensive Sex Ed Networks are emerging to assist schools to become compliant, there are no equivalent resources for monitoring. Our idea is to pilot test a potentially sustainable method to achieve greater enforcement via active monitoring of the Act’s implementation by high school students, coupled with a mechanism to feed the information back to schools and to rank schools on their levels of compliance (e.g., with a “report card” and commentary). We believe that the monitoring of compliance with this Act would best be done by high school students themselves since they would know what is actually being taught to them and how it is delivered. Moreover, it would be empowering for youth to be involved in this “action research” process, and that they could take pride in helping to achieve enforcement of the new Act. Student evaluations of teachers, where they exist, are not sufficiently systematic and standardized to be considered a monitoring tool.

The ACLU of California has developed a comprehensive monitoring instrument for the Healthy Youth Act, but it is not intended to be used by young people themselves. This project is collaborating with youth leaders to adapt and make it more “user-friendly.” The project will assist youths to pilot test a revised tool in 5-8 Los Angeles high schools, refine it, and scale it up to 30 schools by June 2017. The project also plans to develop an interactive website to track participating high schools and promote their compliance with the Act.

The project is led by a new partnership, consisting of UCLA Fielding School of Public Health faculty/students and the Gender and Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network). Founded in San Francisco in 1998, GSA Network is a youth-driven organization that connects LGBTQ youth and school-based Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs through peer support, leadership development, and community organizing support. Its youth leadership development model supports youth in starting, strengthening and sustaining GSA clubs to create school communities where all students can be safe from discrimination, harassment, and violence based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are now about 1,150 GSA clubs in high schools throughout California, representing an estimated 14,000 youth. In California, GSA Network has three offices—in Oakland, Fresno and Los Angeles—and has been working closely with the Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco Unified School Districts. It has already trained 30 youth in Los Angeles on the Healthy Youth Act, and approximately 50 youth statewide.

Activities To Date:
On November 12th, 2016, the team held its first informational meeting on Student-Assessed Sex-Ed Standards. The purpose of this meeting was to inform high school student leaders from area high schools about the main objectives of the project and to get their input into how best it could roll out in their schools. Fifteen students attended from six high schools. During the meeting, the students also discussed how sexuality education is currently being offered in their schools so that the team could understand where things stand before the project launches.

On November 15th, 2016, the team applied for IRB approval from LAUSD and will also be applying for approval from UCLA.