Backers of new sex-ed law see step forward in safety, tolerance

From left, Alejandro Atilano Cornejo, Chris Saniere and Austin Wong from Ali Mayer's 9-12 grade Health Education class at Abraham Lincoln High School watch a video about Hands Only CPR on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle)

From left, Alejandro Atilano Cornejo, Chris Saniere and Austin Wong from Ali Mayer’s 9-12 grade Health Education class at Abraham Lincoln High School watch a video about Hands Only CPR on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle)

Under the measure signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, individual parents can opt out, but schools cannot.

“I think this new law really vaults California into a leadership role nationally on this issue, particularly in terms of the content related to LGBTQ youth and needing to affirmatively address gender identity and sexual orientation,” said Phyllida Burlingame, reproductive justice policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which co-sponsored the legislation.

California school districts have been required to offer curriculum on HIV/AIDS prevention, but sex education was optional. While most districts chose to offer it, the content and the topics covered varied widely, with some avoiding contraceptives in favor of abstinence or avoiding sexual orientation or gender identity entirely.

The new law was backed by a list of education leaders and community groups as well as the state PTA, Burlingame said. “This is something that educators in California really felt they needed,” she said. “It’s in the interest of local education agencies to have a clearer, stronger law at the state level.”

Some districts ahead…