Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What's really going on: The sex education odyssey in Kansas

First, the good news: The Kansas Board of Education yesterday postponed action on requiring abstinence-only sex education.

Now, the bad news: Most folks appear to be missing the central issue – an ultra-conservative attempt to overthrow 20-years of public policy in Kansas.

Earlier reports, including one in this blog, suggested that the board intended to tie this most limited form of sex education to school accreditation. That could well have been disastrous for Kansas’ kids.

If that happened, local school districts would either have to comply with the state mandate, or risk having official approval yanked from their schools. Among other thing, this could mean that colleges might discount diplomas from these out-of-favor schools.

The Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle have fairly comprehensive reports on Tuesday’s board meeting. It appears that our anti-evolution board got a tad confused about how much sex they wanted in their sex education. The Star reports that the discussion devolved into a wrangle over what’s sex vs. what’s abstinence. Everyone seemed to agree that intercourse = sex = bad, but after that the definitions got murky. Apparently, no one could come up with a good definition of abstinence (no jokes, please) and so, they postponed further discussion and action to next month.

What’s missing in the news reports is context. I haven’t had a chance to check this out as much as I’d like, so please correct me if I’m wrong, oh great and wise blogospherians.

With that said…

What is really going on here may well be the opposite of what seems to be happening. In other words, the ultra-conservatives are not trying to preserve the past and take us back to the good old days. They appear to be attempting to overturn 20-years worth of public policy. This policy may well be effective. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Missouri reports that teen pregnancy has declined 20 percent in Kansas during that period.

This fight is being played out as a struggle between the State Board and the Kansas Legislature, or at least, the state Senate.

Here’s the timeline.

July 2005 --> The State Board allows the old – and some would argue – successful sex education guidelines to lapse.

Feb 25, 2006 -->The Kansas Senate passed SB 508, which appears to largely continue standards that have been in place since 1987. The bill is sent to the more conservative House where the bill gets stuck in committee. Efforts are still being made to pass the bill. Any movement would have to come during the wrap-up legislative session later this month.

March 16, 2006 --> The State Board of Education ultra-conservative majority votes 6-4 to make Kansas one of only four states that requires parents to sign permission slips for their adolescents to take sex education. This is known as the “opt-in” policy. Up to this point, Kansas has had an “opt-out” policy that allowed parents to take their children out of sex education classes, if they wished.

Planned Parenthood has some good resources on this and other issues here and here.

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