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Sex Ed Is Hot Topic in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) - A proposed law that would require parental consent for Kansas students to take sex education classes is sparking debate on whether it would benefit students or throw the state back to Puritan times.

House Bill 2199 , introduced by Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, would require Kansas schools to switch from an opt-out program - allowing parents to keep their children out of sex education classes - to an opt-in program, in which students can receive sex education only if their parents sign a consent form. The bill would also give parents full access to all curriculum materials.

The Kansas State Board of Education sets standards for health education in public schools and allows school districts to choose whether to offer an opt-out or opt-in method. The state board offers a model curriculum for sex education, along with letters for parent approval or refusal of the program.

If H.B. 2199 becomes law, Kansas will join only three other states - Arizona, Nevada and Utah - that require opt-in parental consent for sex education.

House Bill 2199 is a "dramatic reversal" of the system, Kansas ACLU Executive Director Micah Kubic said in a statement.

"By requiring parents to opt their children in, the chances increase dramatically that a student will not receive the kind of information they need to protect their health as they mature. State government should be removing barriers to the protection of the health and well-being of young people, not creating new ones," Kubic said.

The House Education Committee last week heard testimony on HB 2199, whose drafting was prompted by controversy last year over a poster listing explicit sexual acts that was displayed on a Shawnee middle school door.

The poster also prompted the introduction in January of a separate bill, S.B. 56 , which would jail public school teachers for teaching "harmful material."

The poster asked: "How do people express their sexual feelings?" and listed answers such as "hugging, kissing, saying 'I like you' and talking" along with other possibilities: "oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, vaginal intercourse, grinding, and touching each other's genitals."

State Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, who testified in support of HB 2199, cited the poster, which was part of an "abstinence plus" program at Hocker Grove Middle School. Pilcher Cook said the poster offered children "a complete menu of X-rated sexual acts."

"It was a shock to many parents that this poster was part of a sexual education curriculum. The poster had a list of phrases which were so obscene they cannot even be displayed by television stations without violating FCC rules," Pilcher Cook said.

"Most decisions within education should be left up to the local school districts," Pilcher Cook said. "But this episode begs the question: Do we really think, as state legislators, that it would ever be in the state's interest for teachers to discuss highly offensive, sexually explicit acts with young children without the knowledge of a parent?"

Opponents of HB 2199 say the bill would keep vital information from children who deserve education about their bodies.


Passage of HB 2199 would be "a step backwards into the dark ages of Puritanism," resulting in unintended pregnancies, an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and a decrease in the use of safe-sex methods such as condoms, said the Rev. Robin McGonigle, a minister at University Congregational Church.

"As a minister, I have accompanied more than one teenager to the doctor to get birth control, find out if she was pregnant or infected with an STD, and I have even been with a couple as they had an abortion," McGonigle said. "These are tragic events that affect a person for life. Sex education is a key piece of reducing the number of people who have to deal with these things."

Making sexuality a "taboo topic" in public schools will inhibit students from making responsible and healthy decisions, said Elise Higgins, Kansas manager of government affairs for Planned Parenthood.

"Unintended pregnancies cost Kansas taxpayers millions every year," Higgins said. "In the current climate, in which Kansas is struggling to make ends meet, sex education provides real solutions and undeniable cost savings for taxpayers and the government."

Kansas is facing enormous budget deficits due to Gov. Sam Brownback's historic tax cuts.

Some opponents of the proposed laws worry that keeping information about appropriate sexuality from children would perpetuate sexual abuse.

"By requiring an opt-in provision, we risk that parental permission forms either don't reach the parent wanting to opt-in or are not returned," said Sara Rust-Martin, legal and policy director for Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.

"Additionally, children may be abused by parents or legal guardians who may not permit their children to receive information that might stop further abuse," Rust-Martin said.

In spoken and written testimony, proponents of HB 2199 said parents have the right to teach their own children about sexuality, something they say the opt-out method can't guarantee.

Kyle and Denise Mead of Topeka said they chose not to opt out any of their children from sex education courses. However, when the Meads asked to see the curriculum, "It took multiple attempts to get this material from the health teacher," they said.

Others targeted what they see as a sexually permissive society's detrimental effects on children's sexual awareness.

"Hardee's sells hamburgers with sex during episodes of 'Dora the Explorer.' ... Last week's news was a middle-school teacher passing out a '50 Shades of Grey' crossword puzzle with 'bondage,' 'handcuffs,' 'erotic,' 'spanking,' etc.," said Phillip Cosby, state director of American Family Action of Kansas and Missouri..

"Not many in this room experience 'the talk' from our parents," Cosby said. "But make no mistake. This vacuum is being filled with hyper-sexualized cyber images, mobile technologies, commercials, sitcoms, Hollywood and a new federal program portraying their brand of what is healthy sexuality. We need parents to reengage on what makes for a healthy sexuality."

Schools would strengthen credibility by engaging parents in the process of the sex education curriculum, said Larry and Christine Tawney. The couple suggested that the process might be "stiffened" by a financial penalty for districts that fail to comply.

During testimony before the committee, Shirley Koehn, who spoke in favor of the bill, cited Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's novel "The Bluest Eye," as an example of literature taught in English classes that she considers inappropriate for high school readers.

"Quite honestly, I almost threw up, because the descriptions, the feelings, the maneuvers and so on were so predatory, and those don't belong on even a high school reading list. Questions about oral and anal sex don't belong in sex education, either," Koehn said.

Rosy Schmidt, who also favors HB 2199, told Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, when he asked whether some of Shakespeare's works should be banned, "I'm not a prude. We read 'Romeo and Juliet.'" But she added that other books "would make everyone squirm," according to the Topeka Capital Journal.

Schmidt also worried about how a sex-ed curriculum might affect sexual abuse victims. "I am very concerned about the implications of a student who may be a victim of sexual abuse, who finds herself in an agonizing situation in school when this topic is studied or when she may come to an awful realization about her abuser," Schmidt said.

The Kansas National Education Association and the Kansas Association of School Boards oppose the bill.

"We believe the policy on allowing parents either to opt in or opt out of curriculum should be made by locally elected school board members who are accountable to voters in their community," said Tom Krebs, governmental relations specialist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. "In Kansas, one size does not fit all."

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