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Washoe's Sex Education Debate: Language Barriers And Few Youth Voices

Illustration by Stephanie Serrano

The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees approved multiple lesson plans this week for the revised high school sexual education curriculum. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano was there for the vote, where multiple community members expressed that their voices weren’t being heard during the process. KUNR's Stephanie Serrano spoke to them and has this report.


120 people showed up for this board meeting, filling a total of six rooms, and 76 participated in public comment, which went on for more than two hours.

The discussion over the new curriculum started in January. The entire process has been emotional, and that was apparent by the eye rolling, huffing and puffing, and disappointed sighing. Along with the tension, there were also technical issues.


The meeting started with a presentation of the new curriculum, but halfway through the presentation, the president of the board had to stop the meeting.


The signal strength wasn’t strong enough on the headsets that provided a translation service in Spanish for the Latinx attendees seated in the overflow rooms. They stopped the meeting to move everyone who needed the Spanish translation into the main room, where the translator was stationed. This actually wasn’t the first time the language barrier was a direct issue.


“Fuimos a otro meeting in la Pine Middle School y nada de lo que había de lo que provenían estaba en espanol solamente las computadoras y las encuestas osea no los dieron el currículum específico,” dijo Camacho.


(“We went to a previous meeting at Pine Middle School and nothing they were proposing was in Spanish. The only thing provided were survey questions on the computer about the new curriculum, but as for the actual lessons, none of that material was provided in Spanish,” Camacho said.)


The meeting she's talking about was a parent preview night for community members to review the material before it was sent to the board.


Marisol Camacho is a mother of three students enrolled in Washoe Schools. She was fighting against Lesson 1, which ultimately did not pass. The lesson would have discussed gender identity and sexual orientation, providing a conversation inclusive of the LGBTQ community.


She says the language barrier and lack of resources made her feel unheard. There were about 25 Latinx people at the meeting, but nearly 40 percent of Washoe Students are Latino. After voting on the sexual education lessons themselves, the Board of Trustees made it a requirement that this curriculum be translated into Spanish moving forward.


Although there was Hispanic representation, meeting attendees were predominantly white. And even though this curriculum impacts high school students, nearly everyone at this meeting was an adult, including Mindy Lilyquist, who was opposing lesson one.


“For us, in our home, gender is a core part of who you are, so for my children to go to school and be taught that that is not true is actually infringing on my rights as a parent,” Lilyquist said.


Susy Meza ia 16- year-old soon-to-be senior at Sparks High School who was intimidated by the large crowd voicing loud opposition to Lesson 1.


“We hear a lot from adults, but we don't hear a lot from students, and we should be listened to,” Meza said. “I believe that the public forum that they have is completely appropriate, but that they should also get opinions from high school seniors who are graduating who wish they would have learned this or freshmen who are just taking health for the first time and they're wishing they would have learned something else or new.”


Meza found out about the meeting after school because her Twitter feed was full of retweets and likes about it.


Samantha Clements is a graduating senior and a proud Christian who also spoke at the meeting, addressing the opposition .


“They don't understand the biases of white males, for that matter, or any white person or straight or cis person,” Clements said. “I also talked about how most of the concerns were moral and religious, and the entire basis as to why we can speak this evening is a separation of church and state, and it's necessary to make sure that there is no religious or moral bias simply scientific fact.”


Another graduating senior, Reilly Hogan, spoke about growing up struggling with her own sexual orientation.


“I spoke to the board about how I grew up figuring out that I was bisexual and how I was never taught about it in schools or from my parents, and that was really detrimental to my mental health. For years and years, I really did not like myself because of the fact that I was bisexual because I thought that that was wrong because I was never taught that it was OK,” Hogan said.


Along with their support for Lesson 1, their comments all point to one common thread: the feeling of being unheard.




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