2019 Leg Session, Education, Gold Dome, Politics

Benigno: Draconian sex ed bill a slap in the face to local communities

The sex education bill currently making its way through the legislature is a prime example of overreach by the progressive left. The kind of overreach that disregards the Colorado Constitution.

The drafters of Colorado’s constitution directed state legislators to organize school districts and establish elected boards of education. Local boards are empowered in Article IX Section 15 “… Said directors shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.” The drafters recognized parental rights to control their children’s education by establishing an elected board that would be accountable to the voters living in the school district.

During the Colorado Constitutional Convention there was concern that the legislature might encourage a monopoly in the sale of textbooks to be used in public schools by prescribing a uniform system. At one point the language was amended to say the legislature would have no power to prescribe textbooks to be used in the public schools in any case whatever. Eventually, the adopted language found in Article IX Section 16 states, “Neither the general assembly nor the state board of education shall have power to prescribe textbooks to be used in the public schools.”

Obviously, the drafters were wise enough to know that some special interest groups, in their case textbook companies, would try to use their influence to lobby lawmakers to require school districts to use their materials to instruct children and therefore usurp parental control. House Bill 19-1032, the prescriptive comprehensive human sexuality education bill, is exactly the type of legislation that the drafters intended to prevent.

In 2017 NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado launched a “Sex Ed Detective” initiative. Karen Middleton, former State Board of Education member and state senator, and current CEO of the organization, said in a published article that sex education detectives were needed across Colorado school districts.  Middleton expressed particular concern that rural school districts were not teaching comprehensive sex education.

All parents should ask whose definition of comprehensive sex education determines their local schools’ curriculum.  

Though the constitutionality of state academic standards are questionable, last June, the Colorado State Board of Education (SBE) adopted revised Comprehensive Health Education Standards. The sex education standards are reasonable and broad to leave local communities latitude to develop specific programs that reflect their local values.

If the sex ed bill is adopted in its current form, any public school that only follows what is required by the revised SBE standards for sex education will not be in compliance with state law. The legislation also precludes any waivers for school district run schools or charter public schools.

I encourage all parents to read House Bill 19-1032 but I will highlight a few examples of obvious special interest influence.

Human sexuality instruction must not explicitly or implicitly employ gender norms or gender stereotypes or exclude the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals. Notice that heterosexuals are not included in the list. If you include a discussion of heterosexuals wouldn’t you need to use gender norms or gender stereotypes?

The bill clearly states that parents should receive a notification that allows for students to be excused from the class, as well as receive an outline of the topics and materials to be presented. The language of the bill goes on to include, “However, nothing in this section requires written notification for programming on gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or healthy relationships that occurs outside of human sexuality instruction.” This means that if there is a school assembly, guest speaker, or discussions on any of these issues outside the formal sex education class, parents will not receive a notification.

Another component of the bill is in regards to instruction on pregnancy outcomes. While it is not required, if pregnancy outcomes are discussed, the instruction must include adoption, abortion, and parenting. All three alternatives must be provided in an objective, unbiased manner and must not endorse or favor one or more outcome options. I assume this means that videos that include an ultrasound of an unborn baby sucking her thumb will not be legal.

All this said, the sponsors of the legislation say that public schools have the choice to teach no sex education at all. However, some are questioning if schools really have a choice without deleting traditional subject matter. The legislation mandates that if a program includes two subjects from a list of three, the school must comply with all the requirements. For example: if a school teaches biology as it relates to human reproduction or human sexual development AND teaches sexual activity or healthy relationships the school must comply with all requirements in HB 19-1032.

The bill’s proponents are overstepping boundaries created to preclude this exact type of control over local communities.

Pamela Benigno directs the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center.

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