Mark Ellis thinks the best classroom for sex education is the home.
He doesn’t think it belongs at Hocker Grove Middle School on a poster that listed with words, but not diagrams, various intimate and sexual acts.
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“The things that were on that poster we probably wouldn’t have gone into,” Ellis said. “I don’t feel those things should be taught in high school. … We were shocked, to say the least.”
Controversy over the poster — titled “How do people express their sexual feelings” — has opened the door in the Kansas Legislature for a renewed debate about sex education.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, has sponsored a bill that would require parents statewide to give consent before their children can take sex education. If parents don’t first give consent — or opt in — children can’t take such classes.
The House Education Committee held a hearing on the bill Tuesday and could forward the measure to the full House within a week.
Ellis took his complaint about the poster in his daughter’s school to Shawnee Mission School District officials. They stopped using the supplemental material for a sex education class until it could be evaluated.
In the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe school districts, parents must “opt out” to keep their children
of sex education classes — the reverse of what Pilcher-Cook proposes.
The De Soto School District adopted an opt-in policy for eighth-grade students similar to Pilcher-Cook’s bill for this school year.
“This gives us the opportunity to put the ultimate decision back in the hands of the parents,” district spokesman Alvie Cater said. “We hear a lot about parent choice and we decided this was an opportunity to be transparent about the information being presented to students.”
State law currently lets local school boards decide whether parents must opt in or opt out for sex education.
The state doesn’t require sex education for graduation. But the course may be included as a component of physical education, which is a graduation requirement.
Pilcher-Cook’s bill also requires school boards to provide all instructional material on health and human sexuality to any parent who wants to see it before deciding whether their kids should take the course.
“We need to protect children from hurtful material in schools,” said Pilcher-Cook. “We need to protect the rights of parents to shield and protect their children from harmful material.”
Johnson County school officials say they make their sex education course material available to parents and work with them to adjust for anything they think is inappropriate.
Shawnee Mission spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said district parents may contact their child’s teacher to review curriculum and instructional materials.
She said in an email that the district wants to communicate with parents so they can make “informed decisions that are in the best interest of their child.”
In Blue Valley, school officials said they will work with parents to modify the sex education curriculum when they find something offensive.
For example, if a Blue Valley student was assigned a paper on a human sexuality topic, a paper on an alternative topic might be a assigned, school officials said.
Mark Dessetti, lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, said parents might be too busy to sign the papers needed for the course.
“It’s very important for kids to have comprehensive sexuality education,” he said. “There are kids who are going to miss this instruction that should have it.”
In De Soto, Cater said only one student’s family didn’t opt in for sex education so far this school year. He said that was an indication that district parents are comfortable with the sex education course.
There was little detail about how many people were opting out of sex education in other districts such as Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe. A spokeswoman for Blue Valley said there are so few people opting out of sex education that it’s not being tracked.
Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway said it was unfortunate that an isolated incident from Johnson County was being used to drive state policy, but she understands the concerns of parents.
Rooker, a Republican and member of the House Education Committee, worried the bill might require parents to opt in to a health class even if it doesn’t address sexuality.
Rep. John Bradford, another member of the Education Committee, said sex education should be taught at home and only at school with active consent from parents.
Bradford, a Leavenworth Republican, said an opt-in policy will prevent situations where paperwork gets lost and a student ends up in a class not approved by the parents.