Two bills have reappeared in the Kansas Legislature to shut down sex education in Kansas.
House Bill 2199 would require "opt-in" permission from parents for any student to attend any sex education lessons. Senate Bill 56 would allow a Kansas teacher to be prosecuted for obscenity for using teaching materials appropriate for classroom use. Both fig-leaf bills died in previous legislatures but are back in an attempt to stifle sex education in Kansas.
House Bill 2199 requires the distribution of "all instructional materials" to parents beforehand and requires "opt-in" permission to attend the classes. Kansas has always required sex education lessons to be "opt-out" since Kansas became the third state to implement mandatory sex education in 1987. (Sex education has since become optional.)
The difference between opt-in and opt-out centers on parents who fail to return permission slips. Under opt-out, these students would remain in the sexuality class. With the imposed opt-in requirement, their student would be excluded. If the number of students who must be accommodated with alternative lessons is more than a few, a teacher will have to abandon sex education lessons or double-teach. Simply, requiring opt-in sex education usually results in the end of sex education.
The irony is that Kansas already allows parents to opt their student out of classes. Under Kansas Statute 1111e, parents can opt their child out of any lessons for religious reasons. And aside from religious objection, Kansas health education standards already require districts to have either an opt-out or opt-in policy for sex education in place. This is called "local control"—and we already have it.
Senate Bill 56 removes the K-12 teacher exemption for obscenity. Currently two professions have exemption under Kansas law: physicians and teachers. Medical doctors most certainly need to be able to use illustrations with patients. And teachers need to use similar graphics with students within the context of sex education lessons. Those graphics would be obscene if posted on main street, but are clearly not obscene and are indeed critical within the context of the doctor’s office or the teacher’s classroom. SB 56 takes away the K-12 teacher’s ability to use such graphics and generates the fear of prosecution in teachers and school officials for using sexual material in "any book, magazine, newspaper, pamphlet, poster, print, picture, figure, image, description, motion picture film, record, recording tape or video tape" with any student under the age of 18.
Similar bills have been brought up in Kansas before. In 2003, Kansas Senate Bill 263 attempted to take away the teaching exemption from obscenity from both K-12 and university teachers. In 2006 and 2008, additional attempts were made with the State Board of Education and the Kansas Legislature to discourage sex education through required opt-in. All of these attempts were wisely rejected.
Oddly, the main rationale given for censoring sex education is that sex education is the parent’s job. Sadly, this ignores the extensive recent discoveries in reproductive biology going well beyond in-vitro fertilization to variations in development, anatomy, hormones and brain development. Unless parents are medical endocrinologists, they are unlikely to be able to explain an anatomical girl with XY chromosomes in every cell, Turner or Klinefelter syndromes, genetic mosaics, the current status of AIDS, sexually-transmitted diseases, or gender and sex determination. It is not just about the "birds-and-the-bees" anymore.
Meanwhile, the new social media and our totally unregulated Internet have allowed youngsters to have access to massive amounts of pornography and a wealth of sexually explicit misinformation at a very young age. At a time when accurate knowledge is ever more important, these proposed Kansas laws will censor the responsible teaching of Kansas students younger than 18.
There are places in the world that want to go backward in history and preserve ignorance: Boko Haram ("Western education is forbidden") in Nigeria, and ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya.