Some abortion-rights advocates have pointed to sexual education as playing a critical role in keeping young people informed, as restrictions on abortion access are increasing in some states. In Kansas, however, the content of sexual education courses may vary from district to district.
Mark Thompson, an Education Program Consultant for Health and Physical Education at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), said that changes to sex-ed courses are made at the local level.
“You may find some districts that may operate from an abstinence-only perspective or an abstinence-plus … or others that operated from a more comprehensive sex education perspective,” Thompson told Kansas Capitol Bureau in an interview Monday. “The content of sex education is left to the local district. The state-level standards, which are based on the national standards, are left very broad.”
The State Board sets Model Curricular Standards for Health Education, which are updated every seven years. The current standards outlined in 2018 include relationships and sexual behaviors. However, the standards are recommendations, meaning that local school districts have the power to decide what to do with them. The curriculum is not required to be comprehensive, and it also doesn’t require students to participate.
According to Thompson, some districts may implement “opt-in” policies, which would require parental permission for their child to participate in a sexual education course. Other districts may have “opt-out” policies, which would allow parents to remove their child(ren) from those lessons.
It’s also not required to include instruction on topics like consent or pregnancy options, like abortion. Instead, the standards recommend “laws associated with sexual behaviors,” like consent, rape, assault, harassment or human trafficking.
Abortion is not currently regulated by lawmakers in Kansas. However, if the “Value Them Both” amendment is approved in August, that could change. Kansas Capitol Bureau asked education officials at KSDE whether sexual education standards in Kansas could change if state lawmakers were to ban abortion or make it illegal. Ann Bush, a spokeswoman for the department, replied in an email Monday, stating that the outcome is currently unknown.
That’s something we can’t answer at this point because the Kansas State Board of Education hasn’t addressed it yet.Ann Bush, Kansas State Department of Education
Even after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as the state’s curricular standards are currently set, the specific content of sexual education classes will be left to school districts.
“You’ll see most of changes happen at the local level, based on local board decisions … ” Thompson said. “Are they facing pressure … what is the tenor of the community …”