California’s first-of-its-kind “gay history” law went into effect Jan. 1, but so far, state educators don’t appear to be on the same page.
Given the state’s budget crunch, the state Department of Education has released no companion curriculum or textbook revisions to comply with the FAIR Education Act, which requires schools to include the contributions of “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans” in instruction programs and curricula at all grade levels.
The law, which evolved from Senate Bill 48, also outlaws instruction materials “reflecting adversely” on those individuals. The act also adds “persons with disabilities” to the list.
But the Legislature has pushed back the financially strapped state’s next curriculum revision and textbook purchase to 2015. Until then, school districts have been given the go-ahead to decide how to carry out the law on their own, said Tom Adams, the state’s director of curriculum frameworks.
“If a school district wants to move forward on implementing this, they can,” Mr. Adams said.
The result: The state now has more than 1,000 discrete school districts attempting to design and implement what may be the most controversial curriculum change in state history. What’s more, they’re doing it - or not doing it - under the watchful eyes of both gay-rights advocates and conservative critics, all against the backdrop of a signature-gathering campaign to reverse the law.
“We feel they’ve really overreached on this,” said Karen England, who is heading “Stop SB 48,” a petition drive aimed at putting a proposed repeal of the law before voters in November. “We’re confident that the more people hear and the more advocates push this, the more there’s going to be a backlash.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District has been cited as the gold standard in broadening its curriculum to include SB 48. In September, the district set a 60-day deadline to develop a curriculum that would include “making available age-appropriate LGBT inclusive curriculum for elementary and secondary schools.”
Most school districts, however, are still in the discussion phase. At the El Dorado Union School District, for example, “we’ve started having conversations with our staff,” said superintendent Christopher Hoffman.
Mr. Hoffman said that what frustrates him is the state has provided no new funding to comply with SB 48. What’s more, the implementation comes at the same time that the schools are wrestling with mandates in the recently adopted Common Core State Standards.
“The mandates keep coming through, but they keep reducing our funding. It’s been reduced by about 20 percent over the last few years,” said Mr. Hoffman. “There’s nothing directly coming from the state, so we’re basically coming up with this on our own.”
The lack of coordination prompted the Los Angeles Times to blast the Legislature for approving SB 48 even though “the state lacks the time or resources to develop lesson plans or a curriculum to help guide them.”
“This is what happens when school laws are passed for political reasons rather than educational ones,” the Times said in an Oct. 19 editorial.
For gay-rights advocates such as Courage Campaign Chairman Rick Jacobs, who fought to pass SB 48, the absence of state effort in implementing the law is troubling.
“I’m concerned in the sense that the law is the law and it’s supposed to be literally in effect, not just on the books,” said Mr. Jacobs. “I feel the Department of Education should be much more aggressive on this. OK, not all the financial resources are together, but they could be doing what we’re doing.”
What the Courage Campaign and its allies are doing is meeting with educators to offer ideas and suggestions on how to implement SB 48. So far, they have met with educators from a handful of districts, he said.
“We understand the budgetary constraints, but that doesn’t mean you don’t follow the law. You just find alternative means to do this,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Rebekah Orr, a spokeswoman for Equality California, which also pushed for SB 48, noted that the law has been in effect for only a month and that advocates should expect an adjustment period.
“I think we generally feel like it’s gone well. We’re only a few weeks into the new era, obviously,” said Ms. Orr. “Most school districts are in the information-gathering stage so far. We’ve been contacted by school districts looking for resources, and those schools are going to be able to act as models for other school districts coming lately.”
That gay-rights groups are stepping in to help design public-school curriculum in the absence of state involvement has only fueled the energy of the Stop 48 backers. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat, was signed into law in July by Gov. Jerry Brown.
“You’ve got Mark Leno and these groups going into the schools and giving them supplementary materials or telling them, ‘You have to do this. We don’t care where you get the supplementary materials,’ ” Mrs. England said.
Brad Dacus, director of the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, said his group also has offered to assist school districts with free legal advice on how to comply with the law. His group is also prepared to file lawsuits against school districts that it thinks go too far.
“Make no mistake - the state may decide to come down with curriculum even before the textbooks are drafted,” Mr. Dacus said.