Questionable curricula, divisive COVID decisions and overall decline in the quality of education are giving local parents multiple reasons to leave the public school system, whose attendance has plunged below 17,000 students from more than 22,000 fifteen years ago. Parents are turning to co-ops and homeschooling groups, which are popping up all over Ventura County as the district’s decisions continue driving families out.
Catherine, a local mother of a sixth-grader and an eleventh-grader, pulled her children out of the public school system just one month ago.
“It’s the overall agenda,” she told the Conejo Guardian. “They’re calling it like it’s curriculum, but it’s very heavy-handed. We’re not comfortable with it. It feels like in the classroom everything is becoming political.”
Her children, who had been in public school their whole lives, found in recent years “that if they express their [conservative] views, they could be outcast, or their grades could suffer, and so they just [didn’t].”
Group-think “was the most alarming to me,” Catherine said. “That really was the real thing that made me go, ‘That’s it, I’m out.’ Because if that’s really their experience, then what are they getting at school? Nothing. … The way it is right now, it’s just an indoctrination machine. That’s all it is.”
Her husband Mark says the large number of families leaving public schools locally and throughout the nation is for similar reasons: the influence of Critical Race Theory on learning, anti-science gender policies and other leftist agendas in the classroom.
“We’re just not happy with the way the public schools are trying to indoctrinate our children,” he says. “It just finally hit that boiling point for a lot of people. That’s what finally did it for us, was the stuff that they’re trying to do today and what they’re trying to teach our kids.”
Another Conejo Valley mother, Emily Ortega, shared concerns that led her to homeschooling.
“In California, it’s the tyranny of the majority,” Ortega says. “It’s not just the government, but it’s our friends and neighbors who have been indoctrinated through the public schools.”
State-funded education, she warned, is “not teaching people how to think. They don’t want children to know how to think, only what to think. They [are] only interested in indoctrination, not critical thinking.”
One CVUSD policy that provoked major backlash was requiring facial coverings for children, many local parents say. Gladis Stoutsengerber took her high school student out of public school this August when schools again enforced mask-wearing. Her decision was prompted by multiple factors.
“Unless the school system shapes up, we’re taking our children back,” she said. “And it’s happening in great numbers. We’re excited about that change. We’re excited about the school pods, we’re excited about homeschooling, and we’re going to claim our children back to ourselves.”
While public schools have seen more than an 8 percent decrease in enrollment since COVID, homeschooling groups are bursting at the seams as more families jump ship for a more family-based approach.
Trinity Pacific, one of several local homeschool groups, reported a 10-20 percent increase in enrollment over last year. Many students are brand-new to homeschooling. Interest from prospective families has been constant for the past 20 months, Trinity told the Conejo Guardian.
Since switching to homeschooling, Catherine’s children have “both really taken to it and are thriving,” she says. In retrospect, she concludes that “had I known what homeschooling really is and the value that it really has, I might have considered this choice long before I felt like I had to make a choice.”
Teen Talk Shocks
Despite having other options for a sexual education program, the CVUSD board of trustees voted unanimously on June 1 to purchase the highly controversial Teen Talk curriculum, which was written in San Francisco and emphasizes unsupervised access to abortion services for children as young as middle school age.
Teen Talk also promotes the idea of gender fluidity, openly calling into question every student’s gender and describing ways to decide on one’s “gender identity.”
One pictorial lesson exhibits “different ways to be a man” with illustrations of both a biological man and a biological woman dressed as a man for “different ways to be a woman.” The lesson then suggests many “gender identities” outside of male and female and pushes students to identify and insist on his or her “pronouns.” Several slides are devoted to pictures and stories of “drag queens” and “drag kings.”
Conejo Valley parents like Cathy Svitek are unwilling for schools to take the lead in teaching children graphic and relatively new sexual theories, which are historically novel and do not represent any previously accepted societal form of morality.
“Little children sometimes think they’re superheroes,” she explained. “Are teachers supposed to affirm that? Sometimes children think they’re monsters or are robots. Are teachers supposed to take seriously these ideas? Sometimes children in middle school explore being bullies and racists and ugly, ugly things. Are we supposed to affirm them in those ugly thoughts?”
In the same way, if a child questions the design of his or her identity, Cathy believes teachers are not “in any kind of position to affirm any child who thinks that they are identifying as some kind of gender that is not in alignment with their physical body.”
Families the Guardian spoke with are concerned that these kinds of ideologies complicate a student’s school experience and encourage them to indulge thoughts that should be discussed at home, rather than taught by district teachers who, she emphasized, would essentially be “asked to do the work of licensed psychologists.”
Teen Talk also contains shocking lessons on anal sex and its colloquial nicknames, graphic narratives of same-sex intercourse, and other examples unfit for print in a family newspaper. In-class lesson plans for ninth graders are available on the CVUSD website for parents to view. The district says it will release lesson plans for seventh graders in the coming months.