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SPOTLIGHT
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Sex-ed 'fig leaf' bill unnecessary

Published on -2/25/2014, 10:05 AM

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In May 1987, Kansas was the third state to adopt an AIDS and human sexuality mandate. The Kansas State Board of Education adopted SBR 91-31-3 requiring substantial sex education be provided at both elementary and secondary levels. Notification was required, and parents who objected were allowed to opt-out. Otherwise, Kansas school children were to receive sex education and the course outline was to be on file in the school office and delivered in the classroom. Eventually, more than 30 states mandated sex education in an era when AIDS = death.

On July 1, 2005, the Kansas sex-ed mandate died a quiet death when the Kansas Board of Regents developed new graduation requirements and modified the Quality Performance Accreditation regulations. But many local schools had codified the sex-ed mandate and its opt-out procedures at the local level. And a new sexuality curriculum just for health classes was approved that allowed local school districts to use either opt-out or opt-in as a local school board decision.

There is a big difference between "opt-out" and "opt-in." A substantial portion of parents fail to return either form. Under opt-out, those students attend the class. Under opt-in, they do not. "Opt-in" is the procedure used for field trips: No signed permission and the student cannot leave school grounds -- it is a liability issue. If more than a few students must be provided with alternative coursework, this burden pretty much ends the lesson or trip. The use of the more restrictive "opt-in" for sex education in effect relies on the lack of returned permission slips from I-don't-care parents to kill the coursework.

But those who have an objection to their child taking any coursework that contradicts their religious beliefs in any subject always have had a ready "opt-out." K.S.A. 72-1111(f) states no child attending public school shall be required to participate in any activity that is contrary to the religious teaching of the child, if a written statement signed by one of the parents or guardian of the child is filed with the school authorities. That defuses the "forced learning" argument.

And school teachers only ask students to "understand" concepts. Just as we teach about a wide range of concepts in political and economic systems, teachers do not mandate "belief."

While this attempt to curb sex education obviously was triggered by a recent instance of posting of a controversial poster in a school, the underlying philosophy is parents can do the "sex education" of their children themselves.

But unless the child's parent is a medical doctor specializing in neuro-hormonal pathology, that is no longer the case. Our 21st century understanding of basic human reproductive biology has gone way beyond the lessons in "simple plumbing." Research in the last decades has advanced our understanding, and this knowledge is critical in a new modern era of infertility treatments and obstetric procedures.

Sometimes there is ambiguity in anatomy and the doctor cannot say, "It's a boy," or "It's a girl." Usually XY chromosomes result in a male and XX chromosomes cause a female; but there are variations from XO to XXY, XXYY etc. Sometimes an XY person has female anatomy and an XX person appears male. And the physical anatomy a person is born with might not match with whether they "feel feminine" or masculine -- their gender identity. Recent research links this with different development in the brain and is related to early hormone levels that can vary widely. And gender identity might not match with sexual identity -- who they are attracted to sexually. This is science parents do not know.

Current Senate Bill No. 376 is a bad bill. It is not necessary. There already is a religious opt-out, a local board-determined health sex-ed opt-out/opt-in, and many local schools continue their own opt-out policy.

Attempts were made in the Kansas Legislature in 2003 and again in 2008 to close down sex education in Kansas. The first attempt was vetoed. The second one failed to pass.

Kansas did not need fig-leaf education then. We do not need it now.

John Richard Schrock is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences

at Emporia State University.

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