Kansas Board of Education Deadlocks on Opt-In Policy

On September 13, the Kansas Board of Education was unable to agree on changes to its current sexuality education policy. The proposed change would have created a statewide opt-in policy. Under an opt-in policy, teachers need permission from a parent before a student can attend a sexuality education class.

Most states and school districts rely instead on opt-out policies which automatically enroll all students but allow parents to remove their child from sexuality education if they object to the content. Opt-out policies typically provide notification to parents on what will be taught in their child's sexuality education program, including what curricula is taught and who will be teaching the class. This policy allows parents to remain informed about their child's sexuality education classes, while still allowing access for youth who may be unable to gain active consent from their parents, such as those whose parents are not involved in their education. An opt-out policy also protects the rights of parents by allowing them to remove their child from the class and to do so without penalty to their child.

The overwhelming majority of states have opt-out policies. If the board were to adopt an opt-in policy, Kansas would be one of only four states that require parental permission for sexuality education along with Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Conservative board member John Bacon initially suggested the policy change in June. At the hearing on September 13 th , 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

The current make-up of the board usually divides 6-4 on ideological lines with social-issue conservatives in the majority. This stalemate resulted when one board member, who is typically aligned with the socially conservative majority, crossing boundaries because she favors leaving this choice up to local districts, the final vote was 5-5.

Health experts in the state expressed concern with the possible impact of changing to an opt-in policy. While these standards are not mandatory, they do help local school districts to shape their own policies. Cynthia Akagi, a Kansas University health education expert who chaired the committee in charge of recommending health standards for school, 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. Akagi said that if the Kansas Board of Education recommends an opt-in policy, her committee will no longer support the changes and will take their name off the recommendations.3

Advocates in Kansas fear that social conservatives are attempting 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 youth 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

The school board is expected to hold another vote on the policy in October. Rebecca Fox, assistant director for public policy at SIECUS, stated, “the Kansas Board of Education must put the needs of Kansas ' youth before socially conservative ideology. School districts must have the flexibility to respond to the needs of their communities and youth must be able to access life-saving information.”

For further information, please see SIECUS state profile.

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>.
  2. “Board deadlocked on sexual education issue,” Lawrence-Journal World, 14 September 2005, accessed 1 October 2005, <http://www2.ljworld.com>.
  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>

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