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Parents' Rights, Parents' Pitfalls

Parents have rights. The California Education Code §51240 allows a child to be excused from “any part of a school’s instruction in health” that conflicts with the “religious training and beliefs” or “personal moral convictions” of the parents.

So what is included under “instruction in health”? While the statute doesn’t define the term (yet), it was clearly intended to be applied broadly. According to the bill report which added the health instruction opt-out to California state law in 2004, this exemption is “intended to allow pupils to exempt themselves from health education (as opposed to sex education which is covered under a different law) IF such instruction conflicts with the pupil’s religious or moral views.”

The report gives as an example how a previous version of the health instruction opt-out had been used by Christian Scientists whose belief in the power of the mind to heal the body was applied to exempt themselves from health education.” Therefore, parents can reasonably conclude that any topic which falls under “health instruction” would be subject to §51240’s "Health Opt Out."

California State Board of Education includes interpersonal relationships, body image, and gender roles, sexual orientation, as well as individual, family, and cultural differences in relationships under the "“Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools.” Parents must take action to discover for themselves what is being taught to their child -- and when the instruction related to health or sex education conflicts with their family’s values or beliefs, parents can then exercise the right to have their child excused from class when the objectionable content is taught. Keep in mind, this must be done in writing (click here for a helpful resource and opt-out form suggestion)

Accommodating one child is an inconvenience, however if many parents respectfully exercise their rights, and make known their objections, the multiplied inconveniences can produce policy changes.

But a word of warning: Here is the Pitfall! It is not enough to object and opt out your child. Your child's ability to stand up for themselves and articulate their values is equally important. If Mom and Dad are doing all the defending, a child will not/cannot learn to defend themselves. When they arrive at the point when s/he must be excused from a favorite teacher's class or from peers s/he identifies with, those family values will be jettisoned. And all you've done as a parent, by opting-out, is make yourself feel good.



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