New Sex Ed Law Adds Clarity ; State Measure Says Education Program Must Be 'Evidence-Based, Culturally Sensitive'

Article excerpt

When Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 officials in 2010 created a health and sex education curriculum for students under a new law and provisions of the state Board of Education, it took a year of difficult work.

"We had some sex education instruction going on but hadn't looked at it in a long time. We felt it was important, so we started over from scratch," D-12 Assistant Superintendent Bev Tarpley said. The committee charged with the delicate task included administrators, teachers, counselors, a minister, a nurse, a doctor and parents.

"We walked a tightrope to give students information to keep them safe and at the same time be sensitive to families and what they thought was their job to do," Tarpley said.

As of last week, there is another sex education law on the books.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper signed HB1081, which in part prods districts that previously lagged in updating their sex ed classes.

The law was created to strengthen existing guidelines and to help youths make informed decisions about their health and relationships. The legislation outlines age-appropriate education, with K-3 grade levels learning about hygiene and older grade levels studying sex education.

The old law was vague, particularly as to what was meant by comprehensive sex education. The new one is awash in definitions designed to address that vagueness, noting that a comprehensive human sexuality education program must be "evidence-based, culturally sensitive, medically accurate, age-appropriate, and reflective of positive youth development approaches." The culturally sensitive phrase refers to making the classroom discussions more sensitive to groups such as gays or transgender youth.

It also encourages family communication about sexuality and teaching students to avoid making unwanted verbal, physical and sexual advances.

While sex education is a sensitive subject, it is considered vital. Surveys show that 61 percent of Colorado youths are sexually active by the time they graduate from high school and that 7 percent do not use birth control, said Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Region.

When compared with the national average, the state has a lower rate of teen births and certain sexually transmitted infections.

Some districts statewide did not do much about the health and sex education requirements the last time around.

A 2011 survey found that only 40 percent of state school administrators believed their schools met the requirements of the old law, according to Colorado Youth Matter.

Local d str cts conf dent

Locally, however, districts such as Cheyenne Mountain 12, Academy School District 20, Colorado Springs School District 11 and Calhan School District RJ1 have done the hard work and are confident that classes reflect the new standards.

"We are in great shape," Tarpley said, noting the district's abstinence-based program also hits all the important criteria of the new law -- being comprehensive, medically accurate, age appropriate and research- and evidence-based.

A committee in 2010 went through the requirements. "In our meetings, there were fears, especially among junior high parents, that we would be showing kids how to do things, using contraceptive aids, and they didn't want it." Teachers, too, felt uncomfortable with what they thought they might have to teach.

"It was hard for districts to fully implement the old law even though they had good intentions," McCafferty said.

Many seem nervous about the new law. Neither of the legislative sponsors of the bill, Sen. Nancy Todd and Rep. Crisanta Duran, returned phone calls, emails or requests for interviews. Colorado Department of Education officials would only say they are neutral on the subject.

The new law transfers the responsibility of sexual education from the Department of Education to the Department of Public Health and Environment to "enhance efficiency and effectiveness," according to the state Senate majority office website. …