From the state that brought you religious-conservative activist Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), heavily flirted with the idea on putting creationism back in the public schools, the state of Kansas will now require parents to give written permission before teaching their children sex education. Specifically, on March 15, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt an “opt-in” requirement for sex education. Kansas joins the ranks of three other conservative states, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, in erecting this particular barrier to young people receiving sex education. I think it is important to note that Nevada and Arizona rank #1 and #2 in teen pregnancy rates in the U.S.
“Opt-in” sex education policies are unnecessary, an administration nightmare for school districts, and, most importantly, may prevent many young people from getting the sexual health information they need to live a healthy life. The Kansas State Board of Education has essentially taken away the responsibility of the school district to inform parents of its plans to teach sex education and placed that burden on its young people. Like any other permission slip, there are countless scenarios that would prevent a young person from getting it signed — parents could be out-of-town, parents could be working when the children are home, child abuse exists in the home, and frankly, kids forget. But unlike a field trip, this permission slip forces young people to approach their parents about the issue of sex.
The Kansas State Board of Education should have left well enough alone. Until yesterday, 36 states, including Kansas, plus the District of Columbia require an “op-out” policy. An “op-out” policy provides parents and young people the necessary protections to ensure that young people get the critical sexual health information and education they need, while giving parents the right to remove their child from the class if they choose. It also lessons the school administrative duties while place the burden of informing parents where it belongs, with the school district.
Board chair Steve Abrams said this move to an “opt-in” policy was about “empowering parents.” Mr. Abrams characterization of the policy is misguided. Kansas parents were already empowered with the state’s “opt-out” policy. The only consequence of this policy is that young people who would otherwise attend a sex education program will miss out.
“Opt-out” is a win for everyone — parents, the school, and especially the children. Like the creationism decision, I hope the Kansas State Board of Education changes its position and returns to its original “opt-out” policy, removing an unwise and unnecessary obstacle so all young people can get the information they need.
Adrienne Verrilli is the director of communications at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. The views and opinions expressed in this communication do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the staff, management and directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, its affiliates, or its chapters.