A coalition concerned about unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in Lexington wants students in Fayette public schools to get “well-rounded, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education” classes.
Lex Ed is a coalition of organizations, public health professionals, parents, students, teachers and concerned citizens who are asking Fayette County school board members to adopt a set of guidelines that schools can use to develop a comprehensive sex education curriculum in grades K-12 at all public elementary and secondary schools.
In addition to teaching the benefits of delaying sexual activity to high school students, teachers should be stressing to students of appropriate ages the importance of effectively using contraceptives and barrier methods such as condoms, said University of Kentucky associate professor of health promotion Kristen P. Mark.
Members of the coalition are concerned because each school-based decision making council currently decides on its own curriculum.
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“Sex education across public schools in Kentucky is inconsistent, and many schools center their sex education around abstinence,” said Lex Ed Coordinator Jenny Clay.
“Comprehensive sex education is not consistently taught in Fayette County Schools,” said Mark. In Fayette County, she said, “They all teach different things because there is no guideline for them to follow when determining what to teach. This puts the site-based decision making councils, administrators, and the teachers all in a difficult position, because they don’t know what they can and can’t teach.”
Fayette school officials did not provide specifics about what is taught in sex education classes.
Principals at Lexington’s six high schools referred questions about what is taught at their schools to district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall, who said, “To the extent that the topics advocated by Lex Ed are aligned with the Kentucky State Academic Standards, they are taught in our schools.”
Fayette County schools currently follow the Kentucky State Academic Health Standards, which are in the process of being revised. Through Dec. 6, people can review the proposed health and physical education standards and share feedback and suggestions, said Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson Nancy Rodriguez. The standards are on the Kentucky Department of Education website : education.ky.gov/curriculum/CSH/wholechild/Pages/Health-Education.aspx
One state standard said students should know “how decision-making relates to responsible sexual behavior (e.g., abstinence, preventing pregnancy, preventing HIV/STDs), and impacts physical, mental and social well-being of an individual.”
Standards are not the same as curriculum. Standards provide broad parameters. Curriculum, which is decided solely at the local school and district level, deals with programs, lessons plans and materials that are used.
Mark and Clay asked the school board to adopt the Lex Ed guidelines at the October monthly board meeting. Clay read to board members a statement from parent Dominique Olbert which said in part, “Talking about sex doesn’t make children promiscuous; it helps them stay safe. … Now is the time for parents to speak to their school administrators, school board members, and health teachers to let them know comprehensive sex education in schools is an urgent necessity.”
The proposed guidelines from Lex Ed say the classes should help young people gain knowledge about the physical, social, and emotional changes of adolescence and subsequent stages of human maturation, including how pregnancy happens; help students develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and stress management in order to make healthy decisions about sexuality and relationships; and encourage them to communicate with their parents, health care and social service professionals, and other trusted adults about sexuality and intimate relations.
Under the guidelines, instructors may, at their own discretion, answer in good faith any question initiated by a student that is consistent with the course material.
Coalition members plan to attend the Nov. 20 board meeting to repeat the request and to provide more information. Clay said that about 1,900 people have signed a petition in favor of the guidelines.
As to whether Fayette school officials will adopt the guidelines, Deffendall said: “We appreciate the passion and advocacy demonstrated by those who came to speak at the school board meeting and will take their input under advisement.”
Mark said that under the guidelines proposed by Lex Ed, the sex education classes would provide age-appropriate and medically accurate information about human sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development. The classes would help students develop the relationship and communication skills to form healthy relationships throughout their lives that are based on mutual respect and affection and are free from violence, coercion, and intimidation.
Under the proposed guidelines, schools would make the curriculum available for viewing upon request. A student could be excused from any part of the instruction at the written request of a parent or guardian. A student could not be subject to disciplinary action, academic penalty, or other sanction if the pupil’s parent or guardian requests the student not receive the instruction. Fayette County Public Schools would require minimum education and training qualifications for sex education instructors under the proposed guidelines.
“I am still in the process of reviewing and gathering information with respect to this important topic,” school board member Doug Barnett told the Herald-Leader. “ I have not made any decisions whatsoever with respect to the Lex Ed guidelines. I do, however, appreciate those who spoke at the board meeting in October for bringing the topic to my attention.”