As school choice week wrapped up, a controversial education bill passed out of a House committee. The bill is called the Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education Act (HB19-1032). Legislators and our constituents are lining up predictably on either side of the bill, mostly along party lines.
There are differences of opinion about what curriculum should be taught, and at what age children are ready to hear it. To be clear, this bill isn’t about the same type of sex education that was taught when I was in school, or even when my own children attended school.
The bill requires statewide training in a way and on issues and attitudes about heterosexual, gay, lesbian and transgender issues that extend beyond the biology discussions of previous sex ed curricula. And, the bill’s statewide mandate affecting “all” children and shifting from a description of biology to prescribed training on attitudes, has sent a head-snapping jolt through Colorado as a society and parents who have children in public schools.
Concerns over the bill’s content and the fact that as drafted there is no reliable opt-out for parents who do not want their child to participate caused hundreds to flood into the Capitol. About 300 testified and hundreds others filled the several overflow rooms where they could listen to the hearing that ran into the evening.
Let’s set aside the fact that since our founding as a state it has been a matter settled in the constitution, law and practice that curriculum choice is the sole responsibility and authority of local Colorado school districts—a reality the bill ignores. Now, in response to the stated intentions of the bill let’s ask, is there a way for parents to ensure that their children are taught about sexuality in a way that makes sense for their families?
A recent poll by the American Federation for Children reveals that 67 percent of voters support school choice, up 4 percent from last year. And this isn’t completely partisan. While more Republicans support school choice over any other group, 56 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents favor school choice as well. As more parents take an active role in their children’s education, they increasingly look for a school that suits their individual needs.
This is where school choice intersects with the general debate over teaching sex education, and the specific debate over HB19-1032. When individual school districts are able to make decisions on how to teach every subject, there is room for differences in sex education. Survey 10 parents at random and you will get 10 different opinions. Some parents think it is their job, some think the school is best suited to teach this topic. Parents who think schools can best teach human sexuality are still split on what the curriculum should contain, and at what ages children should be taught the various aspects of the subject. Yet there is greater potential for parents and students to take up the issue when the framework for discussion is created nearer their homes.
I vigorously oppose HB19-1032. But I am supportive of school districts considering, adjusting and implementing some policy on the subject. If the parents of that district like the decision, they can reward that school board with their votes and support. If the parents of that district don’t like the decision, they can withhold their support at the ballot box when those school board members are up for re-election, and they can choose another school district for their children.
Even if you allow room for differences of opinion regarding the content of HB19-1032, the approach promoted by the bill has the blunt force trauma of a singular perspective pushed upon an entire state. This approach should offend the liberty-loving inclinations of us all. Consider for a moment a legislative majority that supported mandated abstinence-only curriculum for teaching human sexuality. My arguments would be the same.
Regardless of who is in charge in the Colorado Legislature, parental choice in education best serves children when those choices can be made as close as possible to home.
Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, represents District 9 in the Colorado Senate. He is a member of the Senate Education Committee, a former member of House Education Committee, and a former member and chair of the Colorado State Board of Education.