Education

Should sex education start in 4th grade? It would under this bill filed in Kentucky.

Kentucky school districts would have to offer age-appropriate sex education for 4th- through 12th-graders, ranging from prevention of sexually transmitted diseases to premarital abstinence, under a bill introduced by a state lawmaker in the 2018 General Assembly.

“Most parents don’t talk to their children about sex because it’s kind of embarrassing,” said the sponsor, state Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville. Burch said his intent with House Bill 80 is to make sure that students are armed with knowledge about their body.

“Knowledge doesn’t hurt anyone,” Burch said.

State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who co-sponsored the bill, said

that when she tried to find out what kind of sex education fourth graders in Kentucky are getting now, “it was so different across the state in different districts.”

Under the legislation, the Kentucky Board of Education would have to create regulations that would establish a plan for school districts to teach human sexuality education. Every school district would have to be ready to start teaching the topics by the 2019-20 school year. In addition to teaching the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, certified educators would be given special training to teach personal body safety, human growth, human sexuality and development.

Students would learn about healthy relationships free of violence and about responsible sexual behavior. Fourth- and fifth-graders would receive one week of instruction, sixth- through eighth-graders three weeks, and high school students one semester as a requirement toward graduation. Parents could review the curriculum and decide that their child should not be taught the subjects.

Each district’s plan would be developed by an advisory group of lay people and school and community professionals appointed by the superintendent.

Fayette County School District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall recently said Fayette County schools follow the Kentucky State Academic Health Standards, which are in the process of being revised. The standards are on the Kentucky Department of Education website: education.ky.gov/curriculum/CSH/wholechild/Pages/Health-Education.aspx. 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.

Kristen P. Mark, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, is part of the Lex Ed group that’s been asking the Fayette County Public Schools board to adopt sex education guidelines for K-12 students to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Members of the group have said that sex education provided by the school district is not consistent.

“This bill would require schools to offer developmentally appropriate sex education in the schools — a great start and an important step forward for Kentucky,” Mark said Thursday.

Mark noted the legislation does not say anything about teaching students the importance of contraceptive methods or about the prevention of unintended pregnancy, although it includes teaching abstinence.

“A cornerstone of any effective comprehensive sex education program is teaching abstinence, but teaching abstinence is useless unless students are also taught responsible decision-making about sex including how to use contraceptive methods such as condoms and birth control,” which are not in the bill, said Mark. “There is also no mention in the bill of gender identity or sexual identity; something that is crucial for the promotion of diversity acceptance and bullying prevention.”

However, Mark said, the bill said the topics that could be covered are not limited to those mentioned in the bill, “so I am hopeful that we are heading in the right direction.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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