It has traditionally been a parent’s decision what — and when — their children are taught about sex.  New national sex education standards place heavy emphasis on transgender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and of course, racism. Some Kansas schools won’t say what they are teaching.

While much of sex education — for better or worse — has been shifted to the schools, many parents may be unaware of exactly what — and when — their children are exposed to education on topics from “gender identity,” to abortion to how to use various forms of birth control.

A recent article in The Federalist exposed just how far to the left — and how explicit — this education has become.

In 2011, a group of three “nongovernmental agencies” — Advocates for Youth, Answer, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States: Sex Ed for Social Change — published a joint set of “standards” for sex education — starting in kindergarten.

Called the “National Sex Education Standards: Core Content and Skills,” the second edition of those standards released in 2020 have what appears to be a decidedly political bent. For example, the 2011 standards used the word ‘boy’ only once — in the context of “princess boys” — and ‘girl’ not at all. Both were only mentioned seven times in the first edition. However ‘transgender’ went from three mentions to 21, and gender identity from 10 to 69.

There are 270 references to ‘gender identity’ in the new standards, compared to 48 in the first edition.  References to ‘sexual orientation’ jumped from 8 to 48.

While the 2011 version might seem more reasonable, in context it appears to have been the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent.”

The Guttmacher Institute — until 2007 an affiliate organization of Planned Parenthood — in 2012 published an article referring to the first edition as “progressive and pragmatic.”

Heather D. Boonstra, of the Guttmacher Institute, wrote that the “standards were specifically designed to be practical, rather than revolutionary, and are a serious attempt to pave the way for widespread implementation of sex education in U.S. public schools. Representing something of a floor rather than a ceiling, they recognize the limited time, teacher preparation and resources typically devoted to sex education.” (all emphasis added.)

Indeed on that level, the “standards” appear to have been wildly successful, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of school districts nationwide have adopted the 2011 version.

Some Kansas schools are silent on sex education standards

The Sentinel asked 22 Kansas school districts to explain their sex education standards, including the largest districts such as Shawnee Mission and Wichita, as well several small districts such as Columbus.  Only five responded.

Andover Superintendent Brett White noted his district begins sex education in fifth grade and said his district is using the Kansas Model Curricular Standards for Health Education,  rather than using the National Sex Education Standards.  Goddard, Salina, and Maize are also using the Kansas model standards. 

Maize also took a further step to make sure parents had the opportunity to view any videos their children would see.

“Last year, the videos that were part of the curriculum for elementary school children were available publicly online,” Maize Director of Communications Lori Buselt said in an email response. “And the district invited parents to preview the video(s) and determine whether they would like to introduce their child to the video(s) for viewing in the home.”

Maize makes a point to notify elementary school parents of the curricula being used so that they have the opportunity to view them.

Salina, by contrast, makes little effort.

In response to emailed questions, Salina’s records custodian Deborah Howard said parents are not notified of the curricula being used by teachers in fourth grade onward, “unless information is requested.”

Parents are, of course, notified of the “opt-out” option for sex ed, but unless they specifically request the applicable curricula they will have no idea of what they’re being offered the opportunity to opt-out.

Sex education in Kansas is — by law — required to be taught as part of the physical education program, and districts are given the option of “opt-in” or “opt-out,” for parents. Most districts use an opt-out approach in which parents must state — in writing — they do not want their children in sex ed classes.

Salina, Goddard, and Andover use the opt-out procedure, as does Lawrence, which adopted the 2011 “first edition” NSES in 2013.

The Sentinel sent open records requests to both Lawrence and Goddard asking for “all sex and health education curriculum used in your district for grades K-12, as well as any training materials used for educators/paraeducators, and any communications sent to parents.”

Goddard, through their Director of Community Relations Dane Baxa, chose to interpret that request very broadly, demanding $6,210 to produce the records requested.  In Open Records, parlance, that is called a ‘go away’ price.

In an email, Baxa stated, “To provide the materials used to present this curriculum, we will have to query all of the teachers presenting this curriculum on just exactly what materials they use. We have 180 teachers that may present all or a portion of the Kansas Model Curricular Standards for Health Education.”  At the very least, this suggests the district doesn’t know what is being taught.

Baxa estimated a total of 160 hours at $32 per hour just for that portion, and a further 6 hours at $75 per hour to make sure no “copyrighted material” was being provided.

Lawrence stated on October 20 that they would have the records to the Sentinel by Oct. 29, just days before next week’s school board election.

The Sentinel also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the CDC asking for a list of schools that had adopted the “standards” from that 2016 study. 

CDC replied there were no records responsive to the request, stating the “40%” figure is an estimate based upon their sampling of school districts — so exactly how many students across the nation are being exposed to this material is entirely unclear.

The Sentinel additionally reached out to Advocates for Youth asking if they had a list of schools that had adopted either version of their standards but received no response.

It is also worth noting that for every school district to which a query was sent, a received and/or read email receipt was returned.

But the standards are coming from the federal government, right?

The Kansas standards are explicitly based on the National Health Education Standards — stating: “The Kansas Health Education Standards are divided into four sections: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. They were created using the national standards as a template (available at www.shapeamerica.org), but the benchmarks were edited to make the standards more user friendly for Kansas teachers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also explicitly use the standards from SHAPE, or the Society of Health and Physical Educators, and because they are referred to as “national standards” parents might be excused for thinking they are coming from the United States Department of Education. However, SHAPE is a nonprofit organization, not a federal agency, and states on its website: “SHAPE America is a proud member of the coalition that developed the National Health Education Standards (NHES). The standards were released in 1995 and revised in Spring 2007.”

That coalition also includes the group which is promoting the NSES — and which SHAPE explicitly endorses.

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