Pasadena Unified’s Budget Crunch Collides with Graduation Requirements

District's Fiscal Stabilization Plan may Eliminate Health Teachers, Endangering Graduation-Required Health Courses; Recent State Law Adds Additional Health Class Requirements

Published : Tuesday, March 20, 2018 | 5:12 AM

PUSD Health

While the topic of school consolidations dominated much of last week’s local education news, gone largely unnoticed by the public was the School Board’s grappling with the possibility of a second kind of consolidation: shutting down some classes and transferring their teaching materials across existing curricula.

Pasadena Unified’s staffing and resource crunch could hit health education hard.

The School Board faces the dilemma of possibly having to lay off three of the District’s health teachers as part of its Fiscal Stabilization Plan while trying to spread state-required health class components among existing biology, science and Physical Education classes.

Meanwhile a 2016 state law added mandatory comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education to the District’s health program.

According to the report by Dr. Marisa Sarian, the District’s Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education, the California Youth Health Act (CHYA) requires school districts to ensure that all pupils in grades seven to twelve, inclusive, receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education.

The California Youth Health Act is meant “to provide pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and from unintended pregnancy” along with important knowledge teaching about healthy, positive, and safe relationships and behaviors.

The law requires that both comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education are taught once in middle school and once in high school.

PUSD Director of Health Programs Anne Rector told the board that the District developed its own health curriculum, but “the (CHYA) changed everything. It would be very difficult to add these to biology classes.”

As Sarian noted in her report, there are seven overarching standards for high school health courses.

“These standards are aligned with concepts already taught in PE and biology,” said Sarian, “and with professional development and support, can be taught more fully to include all health content requirements.”

According to Sarian, Nutrition and Physical Activity can be taught in PE class, Growth and Development can be taught in Biology and some PE classes.

Sexual Health could be taught in Biology, said Sarian, and Injury Prevention and Safety, Alcohol, Tobacco, and other Drugs, Mental, Emotional, and Social Health, and Personal and Community Health, can all be taught in PE classes.

Sarian said the model was implemented with middle school science teachers during the 2016-17 school year and was “very successful.”

The classes utilized outside health educators, who trained all 7th and 8th grade science teachers and co-taught some of the lessons. Funding for this position was split by the Health Programs office and Secondary Education, but said Sarian, she is unaware if such funding would be available again in the coming school year.

But at least one Pasadena High School health teacher took issue with the idea.

Sean McNeley told the Board last week, “I don’t believe that even the most well-intentioned Science or PE teachers have the time to add this number of standards into their existing curriculum. Health courses go beyond the classrooms and are immediately applicable to the lives of our students. Keep Health as a graduation requirement and as a stand-alone class.”

American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Ruth Dawson also cautioned against eliminating the requirement, telling the Board that “PUSD has a duty to provide health education to its students. Access to sex and health education is a public right.”

Pasadena High student Esmeralda Sandoval agreed, saying, ‘When I got to PHS, I was very nervous, and the health class helped me,” and added, “There isn’t enough time in Bio class, and PE classes are too big.”

Board Vice-President Lawrence Torres said that Health class is “critically important as a stand-alone class, but the question is ‘Is it accessible for everyone?’” Torres noted that Muir High has eight class periods, unlike other Pasadena high schools, and “If we can’t offer it in summer school, then we need to look at what we’re doing in terms of scheduling. Right now, it’s not fair.”

Torres said the District needs to look at different period structures.

‘There is no law against six periods,” Torres said. “It needs to be fair for everyone.” Torres also suggested taking groups of PE students and placing them in ten-week health courses, during the year.

“Having a stand-alone Health class is the best way,” said Board Member Patrick Cahalan. “Kids need to know this. This should not be a point of contention.”

Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy also noted that the seven components health classes constitute “a body of knowledge,” and feared that by “scattering” the components among Bio, Science and PE classes, “cohesion would be lost.”

As Board member Kimberly Kenne summarized, “I encourage us to solve our master scheduling problem, and not at the expense of this course. But I think I have been saying this for a while.”

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