Archive for Thursday, March 23, 2006

District may be forced to change sex ed policy

March 23, 2006

Sex education could change in state schools if the Kansas State School Board can decide on new curriculum.

Last week, actions taken by the Kansas Legislature and state board would allow them to change the way schools teach about sex by changing the parental permission procedure and requiring abstinence-only education.

Shawnee state school board member Sue Gamble said the board's decision to require "opt-in" education might not affect local districts, but the decision to require abstinence-only education could.

"To say that I'm opposed to this is an understatement," she said.

Lexington Trails Middle School Principal Mark Schmidt said De Soto students received sex education as part of the health curriculum. In sixth grade, the emphasis is on growth and development and personal hygiene. He said the sixth-grade curriculum briefly discusses sexually transmitted diseases along with other diseases.

"The overall context is health related," Schmidt said. "There's a nutrition and eating disorder section, one on drug and alcoholism and a section on child development."

Schmidt also said eighth-graders were taught about birth control with an emphasis on abstinence as the best method to prevent unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

"Parents can review materials if they so choose," Schmidt said. "If they don't want their children to take the course, they can sign an opt-out form."

The Senate bill and state board decision would replace opt-out with an opt-in policy, which means parents would have to sign permission slips for their students to be able to take the sex education class. Currently most districts in Kansas, including Shawnee Mission and De Soto, have an opt-out policy, which means parents sign permission slips to get their students out of the sex education class if they prefer.

Some viewed the policy change negatively because students with parents who don't communicate with the district or forget to sign won't be able to take the class.

Gamble said the board's decision was roughly the same thing as the bill.

"The bill was a response to a misunderstanding as far as I could tell," she said. "There was a distinct impression the board had removed sex ed from the curriculum. We moved it from one location in the accreditation standards into another."

The majority on the state board, including John Bacon -- whose district includes De Soto -- supported the opt-in policy. Bacon was unavailable for comment. Four board members including Gamble and Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., voted against the opt-in policy.

The other action regarding abstinence-only education was proposed by State School Board member Kathy Martin from Clay Center.

Gamble said the abstinence-only motion would require a review of curriculum, which could take up to nine months and require input from local school boards.

"By putting this into regulations, it would require local boards of education to take an action if they want to remain accredited." Gamble said. "I cannot tell you how strongly I object to this proposal."

The course would be taught in sixth through ninth grades and teach students that abstinence is the only way to prevent teen pregnancy.

"Abstinence is the only curriculum to ensure 100-percent protection for our students and we, as adults, must have high expectation for our students and then trust that students will live up to them, and if we do that the students will come through," Martin wrote.

Rusty Newman, director of student services, athletics and facilities for the Shawnee Mission district, said that high schools in the district already have an abstinence-only program. They learn about birth control devices only as they relate to preventing sexually transmitted diseases, Newman said.

"People believe in our health program all we discuss is sex ed," he said. "That's a very small portion of our curriculum."

He said some portions of sexual education, such as anatomy, were also covered in science courses. Students also have programs in middle school to learn about changes in their bodies.

Gamble said the recommendation to study a change toward abstinence-only education would likely be on the agenda for the April 11 and 12 state school board meeting in Wichita.

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