“Here we go again,” was a favorite saying of President Reagan anytime another attempt was made to over-regulate some issue. This certainly applies to House Bill 2199 “concerning human sexuality education” that attempts to solve a problem that does not exist.
This is the fourth time an attempt has been made to muzzle sex education in Kansas in the last 15 years. This bill would require that parents “opt-in” their student to such lessons and also require that parents be provided with “... all instructional materials on human sexuality, including any teaching plans and syllabi ... .”
Some Kansans believe there is still a state sex-ed mandate. It is true in May 1987, Kansas was the third state to adopt an AIDS and Human Sexuality mandate. But on July 1, 2005, the Kansas sex ed mandate died a quiet death when the State Board developed new graduation requirements and modified the Quality Performance Accreditation regulations. For those local schools that maintained a sex ed curriculum in the health classes, the KSBE allowed local school districts to use either opt-out or opt-in as a local school board decision.
So, since Kansas schools are already allowed to make a local decision on using “opt-out” or “opt-in,” why would anyone want to take that away and require only “opt-in” from the state level? The motivation is simple: It would end sex education altogether.
Why? 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. Sex education is not a liability issue. But 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 have always had a ready “opt-out.” K.S.A. 72-1111(f) states that 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 any “forced learning” argument.
This attempt to curb sex education was obviously triggered by a recent instance of posting of a controversial poster in a school hallway. In Kansas statutes, sex education is recognized as an important and necessary responsibility of medical doctors and teachers and both are given an affirmative defense from obscenity as long as it is in medical offices and classrooms. Well-trained doctors and teachers do that.
House Bill 2199 is a bad bill. It is not necessary. There is already a religious opt-out as well as a local-board-determined health sex education opt-out/opt-in. And providing the parents with the instructional materials beforehand ignores the fact that teaching is a complex interaction where teachers will be answering students’ questions beyond the lesson plan outline.
Attempts were made in the Kansas Legislature in 2003, 2008 and 2014 to close down sex education in Kansas. The first attempt was vetoed. The second one failed to pass and the third stayed in committee.
Kansas did not need fig-leaf education then. And we do not need it now.
John Richard Schrock is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Emporia State University.