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Petition for Action regarding Sex Education in Knox County Schools
We, the undersigned, call on Knox County Schools and the Knox County School Board to take immediate action in regards to the state of sex education in public schools in Knox County, Tennessee. It has come to our attention that "The Sex Talk," the current curriculum used to educate 6th and 8th grade students in Family Life Education in Knox County, contains misleading medical information, perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes, and does not take an evidence-based approach to sexual health education.

According to Tennessee state law (TCA 49-6-1304), "A family life curriculum shall...provide factually and medically-accurate information." However, the current KCS curriculum contains misleading information about the effectiveness of condoms. The information about condom effectiveness is framed only according to their failure rate ("Condoms fail to reduce pregnancy by 18% with typical use."), and the only text on the singular slide about other birth control methods (Pill, NuvaRing, IUD, etc.) says, "The following offer NO protection against STIs." While these statements have some truth to them, they are purposefully leading young people to the conclusion that condoms and birth control do not work. In a county where STI rates are higher than the U.S. average, these kinds of misleading statements are irresponsible and harmful to our young people's health.

"The Sex Talk" explicitly promotes and normalizes harmful gender and other stereotypes throughout the curriculum. A few examples include an answer to the question, "How are guys and girls different?" to which the reply is, "Girls tend to talk more and (sic) much more relational while guys are less emotional. Guys tend to have less manners than girls...Girls spend much more time trying to look good and caring about what they wear." To the question, "How does what you wear affect how people treat you?" is the reply, "Attitudes, reputations, and first impressions are often determined by what a person is wearing. We emphasize because guys are visually stimulated (sic) what girls wear is extremely important when they are anticipating respect, especially from the opposite sex." In a slide labeled, "The Timeline of Life," photos are shown of a boy and a girl becoming a man and a woman, then becoming "husband and wife," and then a "family."

The stereotypes reinforced by these responses dis-empower young people from taking ownership over their own behaviors, feelings, and choices. They do not reflect the reality of young people's personal experiences, particularly in regards to showing the only acceptable type of relationship and family as being in a two parent, heterosexual context. Stereotypes like these harm young people and perpetuate shame, particularly for students who have been victims of sexual abuse, students whose families cannot afford clothing deemed "acceptable," LBGTQIA+ students, and other marginalized students.

We believe that young people deserve accurate, non-judgmental information about their sexual health, gender, relationships, and bodies that will empower them to make decisions about their lives that are informed and in line with their own and their families' values.

We call on Knox County Schools to implement an evidence-based approach to teaching sex education, and we call for hiring sex educator(s) who have been well-trained in this approach. We also respectfully ask that the Board and the Schools review the complaints filed here about both the current curriculum and the current sex educator in Knox County Schools.

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