Renee Walker is proof positive that one person can make a difference. Alarmed at some of the things her 11-year-old son was saying after attending a family-life program at his middle school in Concord, California, Walker decided to do some investigating. She discovered that the family-life program called CryBabies, which she had signed a permission slip for him to take and which lasted for eight days of his science period, was not the age-appropriate, accurate, unbiased sex-ed class she thought it was going to be. Although she hoped the program would be an excellent icebreaker to start talking with her son about issues regarding sexual health, Walker quickly realized he was not learning anything about puberty or prevention. CryBabies, which she later learned was taught by the anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center First Resort, had, instead, pressured her son to sign an abstinence-pledge, shown him slides of diseased genitalia, failed to teach him about contraception, and taught him that the “morning-after” pill was a form of abortion.
Determined to do something, Walker started calling local, district, and state school officials. When they wouldn’t listen, she started researching the California state education code. After finding apparent violations of the law, she started sending off letters to officials. Her persistence paid off. Walker’s son originally participated in the CryBabies program in 2002. By 2004, the state of California had conducted a comprehensive review of the program and determined that it “teaches developmentally inappropriate content, presents a biased perspective on fetal development, parenting, adoption, abortion, and STDs and is designed to frighten students into abstinence.”
It was during her fight to get CryBabies out of California schools, that Walker realized that she was going to be in the fight against abstinence-only-until-marriage programming for the long haul. While attempting to find better alternatives to CryBabies, Walker came across Teen Esteem another abstinence-only-until-marriage program that, like CryBabies, had been designed by a crisis pregnancy center. It was at this point that Walker realized that CryBabies was not an isolated instance of misinformation being taught to kids — these kinds of programs were all over. As Walker said, “as long as these programs are still in the schools and failing to educate our kids, there is still work for me to do.”
Shortly after starting to work on getting CryBabies out of her son’s school, Walker contacted her local ACLU and started working with another mom from the Bay Area who had complained about the CryBabies program in the Oakland school system. Together they started Bay Area Communities for Health Education (BACHE), a regional group to combat biased providers of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula and to replace these programs with medically accurate, comprehensive instruction.
In a short time, BACHE has achieved an enormous amount of success. The Mount Diablo Unified School District, where Walker originally started her campaign, has begun working with the organization to improve its sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention program. BACHE has also hosted a community forum on sexuality education, garnered media attention around the problem of abstinence-only-until-marriage programming in California, and brought together a cross-section of the community to work toward improving the quality of sexuality education in Bay Area schools. BACHE members include parents, community members, students, teachers, members of the faith community, health professionals, reproductive health and rights organizations, and organizations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
Walker is now focusing her energies on two other biased abstinence-only providers in the Bay Area, Teen Esteem and Await and Find, and working to produce a toolkit of materials to evaluate and improve sex-education programs. It is amazing to think that all of this came out of one parent’s desire for her son to receive an accurate, unbiased education.