The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!
Phoenix Union High School District is one of the most recent districts in Arizona to implement a comprehensive sex education policy, one that includes medically accurate, age-appropriate information on anatomy, reproduction, and biology; teaches students how to reduce risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs; and “empower[s] students to make informed decisions and create healthy relationships.” While these topics should form the basis of any sex education program, they are sadly lacking in most of Arizona’s classrooms, despite the demand for them.
“Helping our students learn and understand how to protect themselves, their relationships, their health, and their bodies is something we want for ALL of our students.”
Electing school board members who understand how important sex education is to students’ well-being is a crucial task for the savvy voter, and the parents and students of Phoenix Union are lucky that their district has forward-thinking folks at the helm — folks like Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s endorsed candidates Ian Danley and Lela Alston. Unfortunately, school boards are constrained by state laws, which in Arizona represent the weakest link in even the most progressive sex education policies.
The state of Arizona has forbidden schools from portraying same-sex sexual behavior in a positive light since 1991. In October 2015, the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board issued a resolution expressing regret that their sex education policy, “while it is a significant step forward, is not truly inclusive.” And, despite their wish to be inclusive of all students, such as their LGBTQ kids, archaic state law has the district in a straitjacket. The school board has called this law “offensive” and “shaming,” and states that it “has no place in Arizona educational policy.”
Earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers attempted to repeal this law at the state level, but they were blocked by the Republican majority. The tension between the wishes of a local school board and state-mandated homophobia illustrates perfectly why it’s so important to vote the entire length of the ballot. Your state government makes educational policies that impact each district and each student. And, in Arizona, school boards have their hands tied by state-level legislation that prohibits them from offering their students the best curricula.
We can update sex education in Arizona — if we vote for school board members and state lawmakers who understand how vital comprehensive sex education is to students’ well-being. Voters need to take a two-pronged approach: elect school board members who will do right by students, and elect legislators who will do right by school boards.
Mr. Danley is up for reelection to the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board, and hopes to build on the progress the board has already made. He generously took the time to answer our questions on October 10, 2016.
Tell us a little about your background and why it’s important to you to be involved with education in your community.
I am a community organizer with a focus on youth leadership development and civic engagement. This led me to run for the school board to bring a community-based approach to change into the life of our schools. I am native Phoenician and a product of the Phoenix Union High School District.
What is sexuality education like in your school district, and what improvements would you like to see in how it’s addressed?
We are proud to have passed the most progressive health education policy in the state last year at Phoenix Union. We shall provide every one of our 28,000 students comprehensive health education that includes medically accurate information young people need to protect themselves, which includes information around contraception, but also components around healthy relationships, abuse in relationships, and issues of consent. We are proud of the strides we have made and are committed to ensuring PUHSD serves the needs of our students and families.
In the most recent legislative session, the state Senate refused to hear SB 1020, which would have made sex education opt-out rather than opt-in. Can you explain why this seemingly small change would have made such a big difference?
We know that students and families are not having these important conversations around relationships, sex, contraception, and consent as often as is needed. We know that so many of our students and families rely on the schools to teach young people about these important issues. When we operate on an opt-in basis we run great risk of missing out on these strategic opportunities to do the important prevention work that data show reduces unwanted pregnancies, disease, and trauma in the lives of our students.
According to current Arizona law (ARS 15-176), no school district that includes HIV/AIDS education in their curricula may use instruction that “promotes a homosexual life-style,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Why do you think it’s so important for sex education in Arizona to be inclusive of all students?
At Phoenix Union, we care about ALL of our students. We are excited about every student who comes to learn with us, whether they be English language learners, refugee students, students with special needs or who learn despite disabilities, or our LGBTQ students. We want ALL of them to reach their potential and to have the information they need to be successful. Inclusivity is a great value to hold up when it comes to public education because we don’t pick and choose our students; we care for and serve whomever comes to our campuses. Helping our students learn and understand how to protect themselves, their relationships, their health, and their bodies is something we want for ALL of our students.
What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates?
Arizona has led the nation in teenage pregnancy for far too long. When young people experience unplanned pregnancies, it can have lasting impacts on their education and future. We know how to prevent unwanted pregnancy, especially in teens. Combining a strong medically accurate, comprehensive health education curriculum that includes contraception information with strong after-school support has proven to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and the corresponding impacts to education.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
Planned Parenthood has been instrumental in helping school boards and districts understand the policy realities in Arizona and how school districts can more fully serve the needs of our communities and students. I am grateful for their leadership and committed efforts on behalf of the students and families of our district.