A “comprehensive sex education” bill in the Colorado legislature would require public schools to adopt a curriculum that could stigmatize Catholic beliefs about sexuality and gender, one critic warned.
“These matters are best left to local school districts in direct consultation with parents and teachers,” Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, told CNA Jan. 22. “Each community and school are different, and on matters as important as sex education parents should take the dominant role in deciding what type of instruction is best.”
House Bill 19-1032 proposes “significant changes” to Colorado’s sex ed curriculum and its requirements for comprehensive sex education, Kraska said.
The bill says that nothing in it shall be construed to prohibit discussion of individuals’ “moral, ethical and religious values” related to relationships, sexuality, or family formation.
However, the bill summary says that comprehensive sex education “prohibits instruction from explicitly or implicitly teaching or endorsing religious ideology or sectarian tenets or doctrines, using shame-based or stigmatizing language or instructional tools, employing gender norms or gender stereotypes, or excluding the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals.”
Kraska encouraged a skeptical approach to such language.
“What this language is really saying is that people or families with certain beliefs and teachings about sex, relationships and gender (like those of the Catholic Church) are basically wrong in their beliefs and teachings,” she said. “The likely result of this type of language will be to stigmatize kids and their families that do hold beliefs that are different from what will be taught in this type of ‘comprehensive sexuality education’.”
Currently, public schools have a limited ability to use state funding for abstinence education, also known as sexual risk avoidance education, although they can use funding from Title V federal funds or can pay outside contractors.
The bill would remove this ability. It would prohibit the state board of education from granting content requirement waivers for “any public school that provides comprehensive human sexuality education.” Such waivers had previously allowed charter public schools, such as the three Colorado schools associated with the Michigan-based Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, to teach their own standards, including abstinence, marital commitment and fidelity.
“The bill does not say that abstinence cannot be taught, but it must be taught in the context of a comprehensive curriculum that includes sharing information about condoms, contraception and STDs,” Kraska explained.
If a school district would not want to teach the state-designed comprehensive sex ed curriculum, it could not teach any sex ed, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
Joneen Mackenzie, a registered nurse and president and founder of the Denver-based Center for Relationship Education, praised risk avoidance education over risk reduction.
“Relationship education that focuses on sexual risk avoidance rather than sexual risk reduction is actually helpful, resulting in this positive trend of adolescents delaying sexual debut and wanting more from their relationships,” Mackenzie told the Gazette.
Almost 65 percent of teens in Colorado were not sexually active in the year 2015, according to the Center for Relationship Education.
Parents who believe the school curriculum dealing with sexuality and gender does not comport with their values or beliefs may not be able to opt out, Kraska warned.
The bill explicitly says a school is not required to give written notification to parents “for programming on gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or healthy relationships that occurs outside the context of human sexuality instruction.”
“This means that parents likely wouldn’t be notified regarding this type of instruction and would not have the ability to opt their child or children out of this instruction,” Kraska said.
Backers of the bill include Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider and a major distributor of contraceptives, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. Proponents cited studies saying abstinence-only curricula are “ineffective at best and overtly harmful at worst,” the Colorado Springs Gazette said.
“Given the current make-up of the legislature this bill is likely to pass,” Kraska said.
The proposal’s main sponsors are Sen. Don Coram (R), Sen. Nancy Todd (D), and Rep. Susan Lontine (D). In the 2018 elections, Democrats won all major statewide offices and took control of the State Senate.
The Colorado bill is similar to one passed in California. One parent, Carolina Riofrio of Palo Alto, Calif., told the National Catholic Register in 2017 that a curriculum designed to comply with the California law required students to orally analyze scenarios in order to clarify and reassess their views. Pressure was exerted on students to conform to a morally neutral position in public, and religious values judged to reflect an unacceptable “bias,” were effectively excluded, she said.
Other schools have drawn parental objections for reading children’s books that advocate transgenderism and children undergoing purported gender transitions. A kindergarten teacher at a public charter school in California read such books to her class as a way to introduce a male classmate whose parents said he was undergoing a gender transition to a girl.
The incident reportedly upset several children in the class, several of whom later voiced fears they would turn into the opposite sex. Parents were not informed of the incident until their children told them about it, the Washington Times reported in September 2017.
The Colorado bill proposes to set aside at least $1 million in annual funds for the state’s comprehensive human sexuality education program. It would add eight representatives to the program’s oversight board and require at least seven members to be “members of groups of people who have been or might be discriminated against.”
There is no guarantee this will make the board representative of all citizens, however.
“I believe that Christians and especially Catholics can make a reasonable and strong argument that they have been discriminated against, but this will likely be an argument that falls on deaf ears,” said Kraska.