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Some schools are rethinking sex ed with lessons on consent

The changing culture around sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement has some states and school districts rethinking their sex ed curriculum to include healthy relationships, preventing violence and ensuring consent. Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education Week visits a Washington, D.C., school that is committed to comprehensive sexuality education.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The MeToo movement has forced a discussion about sexual harassment and consent in the workplace, in Hollywood, and in the locker room, but what about in schools?

    While colleges have tackled the issue by training students about relationships and consent, those who teach sex education in K-12 say it needs to start much earlier.

    Special correspondent Lisa Stark of our partner Education Week visited a Washington, D.C., school that is committed to comprehensive sexuality education. It's part of our weekly segment, Making the Grade.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    Well, let me ask you, what do you think we're going to talk about today?

  • Student:

    Sex.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    Sex. OK, who said sex? Excellent.

  • Lisa Stark:

    This is sex ed on steroids. Yes, there's the usual talk of anatomy, safe sex and abstinence, but the key focus, how all this plays out in the real world.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    So what that looks like on Saturday night or if you're interested in someone.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Shafia Zaloom has been teaching comprehensive sexuality education for 25 years.

    How many kids are getting this kind of sex education?

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    I don't think a whole lot.

  • Lisa Stark:

    But there's a big push to change that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are growing allegations of sexual harassment.

  • Lisa Stark:

    The uproar over recent cases of sexual harassment and assault, the resulting MeToo movement, has some states and school districts rethinking their sex ed curriculum to include healthy relationships, preventing violence, ensuring consent.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    There is a need for there to be conversation and education around all the different ways in which our culture influences our relationships and social dynamics that may lead to harassment or assault.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Senior Tyce Christian agrees.

  • Tyce Christian:

    We have a book on healing.

  • Lisa Stark:

    She's worked to help victims of sexual assault.

  • Tyce Christian:

    Most sexual assaults, especially in high schools, are by people that you know, people that you see every day. And I think it's one of the reasons why we need to talk about consent and healthy relationships, because it helps reduce sexual assaults.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Christian attends Georgetown Day High School, a private school in Washington, D.C., that my children attended. The school brought in Shafia Zaloom for a week of sexuality education, much of it focusing on consent, how to know if someone is agreeing, or not agreeing, to intimacy.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    Consent is what makes sex legal. It protects the fundamentals of human decency, which, of course, is essential.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Zaloom, a San Francisco-based educator who teaches around the country, puts it in language anyone can understand.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    How many of you like french fries? Oh, yes, OK. Put your hands up high, fries lovers.

  • Lisa Stark:

    OK, she says, what if you sit down at a lunch table with your french fries and friends just start grabbing them?

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    How many of you are actually OK with that?

  • Student:

    Even if I don't want all the fries, it's just the principle the fact that they think they can take my fries, when I bought them with my money.

  • Student:

    In general, the people who respect you enough to ask are the people that you want to share with.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    Now, how does this actually relate to sexuality? Not to minimize the topic of consent with fires, but what belongs to you? Your body. People's bodies belong to them. They get to choose how they touch and get touched, because their bodies belong to them.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Zaloom uses movie clips to help teens figure out what consent should look and sound like.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    Was it consensual? OK. How did you know?

    Yes.

  • Student:

    He asked what she wanted to do beforehand.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    Asked what she wanted to do beforehand. How do you want to be, right?

  • Lisa Stark:

    And if it's not consensual?

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    So you have every right, then, in that moment to say, you know what, this doesn't feel so right, I want to stop. And that no one should every have to engage in a sexual experience that they don't feel comfortable in or that they're coerced into, that we have the right to change our minds.

  • Lisa Stark:

    These can be tough subjects to talk about, but students like Logan McDermott-Mostowy are thankful for the discussion.

  • Logan McDermott-Mostowy:

    I just think it's really important that people know not only how to be safe, like from things like pregnancy and STDs, but also sort of how to feel empowered to, like, ask for what they want within sexual relationships, and just have good relationships.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Sex education is required in just over half the states and Washington, D.C. What that includes varies widely.

  • Chitra Panjabi:

    It's a patchwork of laws right now, and that is really challenging.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Chitra Panjabi is president and CEO of a group that helped developed the National Sexuality Education Standards, which any school can utilize.

  • Chitra Panjabi:

    So, the standards are comprehensive, in that they include things like anatomy and physiology, pregnancy and reproduction, healthy relationships.

  • Lisa Stark:

    But most districts aren't using the standards, or teaching the sex education topics, 19 in all, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

    Just 38 percent of high schoolers and 14 percent of middle school students nationwide are getting this education, everything from information on sexually transmitted diseases and contraception to decision-making skills.

  • Chitra Panjabi:

    We're still not reaching as many young people as we could be reaching and, quite frankly, as we should be reaching.

  • Student:

    And with their consent, there's nothing wrong with it.

  • Lisa Stark:

    That is especially true when it comes to young men.

  • Jacob Gaba:

    This is an issue that disproportionately affects women, but men are disproportionately the perpetrators. Men have to be involved in the conversation

  • Lisa Stark:

    Jacob Gaba and Alex Thompson are working to make that happen.

  • Alex Thompson:

    And so we're going to be talking about what happens at dances, how consent applies or doesn't apply.

  • Lisa Stark:

    They have formed a group at Georgetown Day called Boys Leading Boys. At lunch meetings twice a month, the discussion focuses on male culture and how guys can help fight sexual harassment and assault.

  • Alex Thompson:

    We're kind of trying to start to hold ourselves and other young men accountable for their actions and to teach each other how to hold their peers accountable.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Today, the talk is about what's called grinding, dancing with bodies up close, and how to make sure the girl is OK with that.

  • Jacob Gaba:

    It's a tough space to communicate in, right? It's dark. There's a lot of loud music.

  • Student:

    I think an easy just tap on the shoulder, and, like, you good, that you hear like a thumbs up.

  • Lisa Stark:

    And what if you see another guy behaving badly?

  • Student:

    What would you guys do to intervene in that situation?

  • Student:

    I just sort of got his attention and pulled him to the side and started talking to him about something else.

  • Student:

    Awesome.

  • Lisa Stark:

    It's not easy to change centuries of common behavior.

    Have you have gotten any pushback from any of the male students here, like, oh, come on, give me a break?

  • Alex Thompson:

    Sometimes, someone will say, like, oh, what you guys are doing is so soft. Like, why is it such a big deal that guys want to be masculine?

  • Lisa Stark:

    Schools are often where attitudes about how men and women behave get learned and reinforced. It's one of the reasons Zaloom and others believe this is the right place to educate teens on consent and healthy relationships.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    I want to encourage you, when it comes to your relationship practice, that there be respect, empathy and dignity.

  • Tyce Christian:

    I think that, the more we know, the more we know and the less confusion there is and gray areas there are, the easier it will be to navigate these situations when we face them later in life in college and beyond.

  • Lisa Stark:

    Situations brought into the open with the MeToo movement, and that some hope can be prevented with education like this.

  • Shafia Zaloom:

    A sense of self-worth, absolutely.

  • Lisa Stark:

    For Education Week and the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Stark in Washington, D.C.

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