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Two State Boards of Education Attempt to Limit Students’ Access to Information

In both Texas and Kansas , state boards of education have taken steps to limit students' access to information about sexual and reproductive health. Both boards have long been embroiled in these types of controversies.

Kansas

Breaking an earlier deadlock, the Kansas State Board of Education passed a policy recommending that schools adopt an opt-in policy for sexuality education classes.

While this is not a mandate and districts can still choose an opt-out policy, these standards help local school districts shape their own policies.

Opt-out policies allow children to be removed from sexuality education upon the request of a parent. Such policies typically provide notification to parents about what will be taught in their child's sexuality education program, including what curriculum is used and who will be teaching the class. Students are automatically enrolled in class unless parents request otherwise. Opt-out systems ensure that parents are informed about their child's sexuality education classes and that a system is in place to allow them to remove their child from the class without penalty to the young person. The overwhelming majority of states have opt-out policies.

Under an opt-in policy, schools need permission from a parent before their child can attend the class. Educators fear, however, that some young people may be unable to gain active consent from their parents and that others will simply forget to do so. Only three states, Arizona , Nevada , and Utah , require active parental permission for sexuality education.

Conservative board member John Bacon initially suggested that the board recommend opt-in policies in June 2005. At a hearing on this issue, he stated that he is not attempting to dictate what schools teach, just what they disclose to parents, stating, “some of the things I have heard talked about are things I think most parents would take exception to.”1

Health professionals in the state expressed concern about the possible impact of changing to an opt-in policy. Cynthia Akagi, a Kansas University health education expert who chaired the committee in charge of recommending health standards for schools, expressed frustration at the vote, “I wish the board would leave it to what's best for local districts.”2 She also worried that an opt-in policy would lead to problems for teachers attempting to track permission slips.3

Advocates in Kansas fear that this is just one step in a larger attempt by social conservatives to eradicate sexuality education in the state. Sarah London, public policy manager at Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, explained “there was some great concern about a move toward—as many of us see it—dismantling sex education.”4

In addition, parents throughout the state have expressed concern that an opt-in policy is likely to harm many young people as well as having a negative impact on parent-child communication around sexuality. Holli Joyce, the mother of two school-age sons, commented that in-school sexuality education has had a positive impact for her family, “it provides families with the ability to discuss their beliefs at home and to talk about sexuality at home. It gives the children an opportunity to think of questions.” Expressing concern about the possible switch to an opt-in policy, she stated, “you wouldn't reach all the parents. The kids that need this type of education are the ones whose parents would have a difficult time getting the slip back.”5

Currently, legislation has passed the Kansas Senate and is pending in the House that would require sexuality education to be an opt-out class. If passed, this legislation would trump the state board's recommendation.

Texas

Controversy also continues to entangle the Texas Board of Education. Conservative members of the board of education are attempting to reopen a debate about how much influence the board can exercise over the content of sexuality education.

Specifically, the state board is trying to reclaim the power to severely restrict information in health textbooks. In order to do this, it has asked Texas ' Attorney General Greg Abbott to review a law that has been used to limit its power. Teachers' groups and other progressive nonprofits are urging Abbott to uphold the law. According to Kathy Miller the president of the Texas Freedom Network, “our children's education should not be held to hostage to the personal agendas of elected officials on the state board. The Legislature properly and clearly acted in 1995 to prevent board members from editing textbooks based on their own political and religious beliefs.”6

This controversy began in 1994 when then-members of the Board attempted to pressure textbook publishers into removing language mentioning lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people, self-examinations for testicular cancer, and clinical pictures of reproductive organs. In response, the president of one publishing company stated, “some of the mandated revisions are in opposition to the fundamental philosophy of our program and are potentially injurious to the students of Texas . We simply cannot produce a product that does not provide children with adequate instruction on life threatening issues.”7

At that time, the Texas legislature sought to curb the board's abuses and passed legislation that prohibits the state board from rejecting books that are factually and academically correct and meet manufacturing standards. The board initially fought this legislation in 1995, but the then-Attorney General said that the law was constitutional and appropriate.8 Board members hope that Abbot will reverse this decision.

For further information, please see SIECUS state profile of Kansas at: http://www.siecus.org/policy/states/2004/mandates/KS.html

For further information, please see SIECUS state profile of Texas at: http://www.siecus.org/policy/states/2004/mandates/TX.html

References

  1. Diane Carroll, “Parents permission slip may be ticket to sex ed,” The Kansas City Star, 20 September 2005, accessed 1 October 2005, <http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/12634464.htm>.
  2. “Board deadlocked on sexual education issue,” Lawrence-Journal World , 14 September 2005, accessed 1 October 2005, <http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/sep/14/board_deadlocked_sexual_education_issue/?city_local>.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Petition urges state board to let alone sex ed policy,” Lawrence-Journal World, 3 August 2005, accessed 1 October 2005, <http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/aug/03/petition_urges_state_board_let_alone_sex_ed_policy/?print>.
  6. “TFN joining education advocates in backing censorship curbs,” Texas Freedom Network press release published 14 March 2006, accessed 22 March 2006, <http://www.tfn.org/pressroom/display.php?item_id=3061>.
  7. Sam Dillon, “Publisher pulls a textbook in furor on sexual content,” The New York Times, 17 March 1994.
  8. A. Phillips Brook, “Textbook publishers fear new rules leave room for old controversies,” Austin American-Statesman, 2 November 1995, A1.

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