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Organizing 101: Building a Movement for Parents and Caregivers

Parents and Caregivers: 

Step 1: Get Information

  • Communicate with your child about what their sexual health education classes are teaching.
    • Talking to your child is essential to finding out how sexual health education is implemented in your school district. Your child is your best resource in finding out what is happening in school. Ask them questions:
      • Is your school offering sexual health education? Is it required?
      • When and where is sex ed happening? Who teaches it? What class does this happen in?
      • Are you being taught that both abstinence and sexual activity are options available to you?
      • Do you know what your options are if you choose to have intercourse?
      • Do you talk about LGBT+ people and their options for their sexual activity and sexual health?
      • Are you learning about consent in both a sexual and non-sexual context?
      • Is your class discussing what a healthy relationship looks like?
      • Do you know how to access resources for your reproductive health?
  • Ask to review your school and school district’s policy on sexual health education. This information should be publicly available to parents.
    • First, contact your school’s administration and request a copy of the policy on sexual health education.
    • If this is not available, contact your school district and ask for a copy. They are legally required to produce this information for parents.

 

Step 2: Evaluate for Compliance

  • Review Colorado state standards on sexual health education. Sexual health education in Colorado needs to be:
    • Medically accurate: information presented in class must be evidence-based.
    • Culturally sensitive: the curriculum should be inclusive of all groups, including English language learners, students with disabilities, LGBT+ students, and students who have experienced sexual violence.
    • Up-to-date: information is current and reflects new advances in the field of reproductive health.
    • Compare this information to your school district’s policy.
  • School districts should make this information publicly available. Ask your local school for a copy of the sexual health education policy, as well as the school district.
  • Just because a district has a good policy and curriculum on the books does not always mean that the policy is being adequately implemented. This is why talking with others in your community, including other parents and supportive school or district staff, is important. Compare that policy with your student’s experience. Do they match up?
  • If everything looks great, write a letter to the superintendent or administrator explaining that as a committed parent, you are pleased that the school district has taken the necessary steps to provide comprehensive sexual health education at your local school.

Step 3: Develop a List of Problems and “Asks”

  • Identify problems with the existing curriculum. If the policies and instructional materials are outdated, inaccurate, or not culturally sensitive, develop a list of problems you see. Some problem areas could include instruction that is not sufficiently LGBTQ-inclusive, materials that promote abstinence only, and school board regulations that require parents to actively consent for their students to participate in their sexual health education class.
  • Develop your “asks.” Based on your list of problems, write up your “asks” or the specific changes you want the school to take to be compliant with Colorado law. Potential “asks” can include updating the school board policy, adopting a new curriculum, providing teacher training, removing biased or outdated materials, and more.
  • Since Colorado allows school districts to make many of their own decisions, your asks will be very specific to the school district you reside in. In some cases, this may be asking for sexual health to be taught in the first place. In other districts, this might mean asking for the curriculum to be comprehensive and not just abstinence-only. Some districts might have comprehensive sexual health education, but it may not be inclusive or up-to-date as it could be. Your asks should be tailored to the situation of your specific school district.
  • Compare asks with other concerned individuals. Have you identified similar problems? Are you looking to change similar things?
    • If your asks align, you’ve already started building a coalition of activists.
    • If your asks are different, work together to find common ground. Is there a way to incorporate both of your concerns? Could we make both of these asks a priority?
  • Many campaigns have multiple asks. It is okay to advocate for multiple changes at once, as long as those changes are complementary. Just make sure you stay focused and keep your asks focused in the issue of comprehensive sexual health education. Other concerns could be the basis of a separate campaign.

Step 4: Take Action by Making Your Asks Public

  • Meet with a school or district decision-maker.
    • This is an important first step. You want to clarify existing policy before embarking to change it. This is also an opportunity to gauge school administration’s support. It is possible that they are supportive of CSHE, but don’t have the time, support, or resources to make changes to their district policy.
      • It is important to meet with a school or district decision-maker first before you decide to take any further steps. Going to the school board before meeting with a school or district decision-maker can be seen as working around the district staff. If the school or district decision-maker you meet with is resistant and you feel like you are not making progress in presenting your concerns and requests, then take further action to ensure your concerns are heard.
    • Decide whether to meet with a school or district decision-maker. If the problem is based on one school, schedule a meeting with the school principal. If the problem is district-wide, schedule a meeting with the district superintendent, associate superintendent, or curriculum director.
    • Come prepared. Bring the list of problems you would like to address, a copy of your “asks,” and some printed resources. The school or district decision-maker should be willing to work with you to implement the changes you want to see. Provide the school or district decision-maker with printed copies of some or all of the resources below.
  • Attend the meetings of your school’s PTA and other accountability groups.
    • Connect with group leaders and let them know your concerns on CSHE. These organizations already have strong relationships with the school and possibly the district administration as well. The support of these groups could give you much more access to decision-makers, as well as consistent support for your movement.
    • Ask if you could present at one of their meetings.
    • This is a great opportunity to network with other parents who may share the same concerns as you. Even if the entire group is not in agreement on CSHE, there are probably other involved parents who want to see changes towards CSHE.
    • Consider getting more involved in these groups to advance your message. These groups are often in need of parent leadership. Getting more involved could give you a bigger platform to educate and engage other parents about CSHE.
  • Present to the school board.
  • Ask the superintendent’s office to add you to the school board agenda to present. The school board can override the district staff and superintendent and help you change and adopt policies and curriculum. If you’re not on the agenda you can still make a brief presentation during the public comment period.
  • Arrive prepared to the school board meeting. You should outline your 2-3 minute speech in advance, and prepare a packet of written materials to leave with the school board members after the meeting, including sample policies and other resources.
  • Bring a group of mobilized supporters. School board meetings are not typically well attended, so a showing of 5-10 people wearing the same t-shirt or sticker is noticeable. Talk to other allies within your community and online, and develop relationships with community-based organizations to mobilize other parents to support you. If you need support identifying allies in your area, contact the ACLU of Colorado for ideas.
  • Public comments are short speeches (no more than three minutes) giving a quick summary of your cause to the board.
  • Your school board will have a meeting schedule. Part of the meeting is usually reserved for public comment, and you will be given the opportunity to sign up for a spot to make your public comment.
  • Invite other parents and caregivers to join you at the meeting. The more people attending to discuss an issue, the more attention it will receive from school board members.
  • NOTE: Even if you are making progress with administrators, you may want to present to the school board at some point to go on public record and ensure that the school or district is fully committed to the changes you’ve requested. Be sure to evaluate the political context of your school district and understand that school board members can be swayed by pressure from both opponents and proponents of change.
  • Contact your State Legislators. Your voice as a constituent is the most powerful. Remember, your representative relies on local voters like you to keep their elected position. Since your student probably cannot vote yet, use your power as a voter to advocate for them.
    • If you are unsure who your representatives are, use your zip code to find your legislators with this search tool.
    • Send emails and make phone calls to your legislator’s office. It’s also smart to utilize social media to contact your legislator. Most state legislators are on Facebook and Twitter, so you can tag them in posts you make about CSHE.
    • The more you contact your legislator, the more they will notice constituents are concerned about CSHE access.
    • See if you can schedule a meeting with your legislator. You can visit them at their Denver office while Congress is in session, but do not feel like traveling to the state capitol is the only way to meet your legislator. When Congress is not in session, they are likely to be in your district and more accessible to constituents. Most legislators have websites where you can request a meeting. If you can’t find that option on their website, you can always contact their office and a legislative aide will help you schedule an appointment. If you schedule a meeting with your legislator, consider bringing your student with you so they can represent youth voices. There is more information about legislative meetings in the Additional Resources section.
  • Contact your state board of education.
    • The state board is responsible for making statewide policy decisions that affect all school districts. By bringing the issue of CSHE to their attention, you have the potential to influence statewide decisions about the issue. You can find the contact information of the state board on the Colorado State Board of Education website.
  • Provide public comment at a state board meeting.
    • The Colorado state board is available for public comment on Wednesdays; if you cannot attend in person, you may submit a written comment to be read to the board.
    • Making a public comment to the state board is very similar to going to a school district board meeting. Here are the state board’s guidelines on public comment.
  • Reach out to community organizations who support parents in accessing CSHE for their children.
    • There are many organizations working on providing access to  CSHE in Colorado. They can have more of an impact if they have parent support, especially in specific school districts. Students need community representatives to support them in their efforts.
    • Consult the list of partner organizations in the Additional Resources section.
      • Check their websites for information about CSHE advocacy and what kind of work the organization does to support CSHE.
      • Do any of these organizations have representatives or offices close to you? See if you can arrange a meeting or phone call.
      • If not, look up the contact information for members of that organization. Contact the organization and ask about resources that might be available to you. There may be resources and contacts available that are not listed on the website.
    • If an organization does not get back to you, don’t think that means CSHE isn’t important to them. They might not have the time or resources to support you.
  • Write letters to the editor in local publications.
    • A letter to the editor is a short piece, usually under 250 words, that quickly describes the issue you’re concerned about and what changes you would like to see.
    • Your voice as a parent can be very persuasive. As a parent, you are a key stakeholder in the eyes of your child’s school and school district. As a constituent, elected officials are dependent on your support. Make sure to emphasize your unique perspective as a parent. It will help make your letter to the editor stand out and offer a more personal perspective on CSHE.
    • You do not need to have impressive credentials to write a letter to the editor. You don’t have to be a professional or an expert of CSHE to comment on this issue. You simply need to be a concerned member of the community.
    • Ask a peer to review your letter to the editor and offer feedback. The stronger the writing, the more likely your letter will get published.
    • For detailed information about writing a letter to the editor, check out the guide in the Additional Resources section.
  • Use social media. Social media is full of opportunities to amplify your message. You can use your existing personal accounts, or make new social media accounts for your movement. Many parents might not be able to be as actively involved with your campaign as they would like. Social media is a great tool for including other parents and keeping them updated about your movement’s progress. It’s important to have parent voices on social media supporting the message of students. The more diverse perspectives represented on social media, the stronger your movement will be.
    • Social media is a great medium to grab the attention of decision-makers. Elected officials are on social media and may notice your advocacy online before you have a chance to meet with them. This is also a great tool to inform other students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and other community members about your advocacy and get them involved with your campaign.
    • Show the public why you care. Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to show the public why you care about CSHE. Social media is a great place to share personal experiences and stories related to an issue. Highlight your unique perspective as a parent.
    • Many people don’t have that much information about CSHE. Use social media to share facts, statistics, and research about the importance of comprehensive sexual health education. Your posts might be someone’s only source of information about the issue.
    • Social media is an easy way to recruit more supporters. Your peers may be hesitant to help you in executing a big action, but they might be willing to support you on social media. Once they see your presence on social media, they might be more comfortable with joining your campaign in a bigger way.
    • Keep your online advocacy focused on the importance of CSHE. Do not specifically target any elected official if you have not had a chance to connect with them and find out their stance on the issue. Even then, targeting specific elected officials damages relationships and makes it more difficult for you and other community members to advocate for CSHE later on.
    • Social media is especially good for promoting a specific call to action.
      • Share information about an upcoming school board meeting and invite others to join you.
      • If you write a letter to the editor, share it on your social media and encourage others to share it.
      • Encourage others to contact their elected officials to advocate for CSHE.
    • Use social media to share your victories.
      • Share photos and videos from action events. For example, share a photo of someone giving a public comment at a school board meeting.
      • If you meet with an elected official, ask for a photo. You can share this on social media to show followers what steps your campaign is taking.
      • If there is a vote or policy change, inform your network about these changes, especially if those changes are supportive of CSHE.
  • Tell us what you’re doing!
    • Contact the ACLU of Colorado to let us know how this toolkit has helped you, and what steps you have taken to advocate for comprehensive sexual health education at your local school or district.