In one item of a lengthy Sept. 9 meeting agenda, the Buena Vista School Board voted unanimously to prepare a resolution to opt-out of “state-mandated comprehensive sex education.”

The unanimous vote was framed as a decision to exert local control. Currently, Buena Vista teaches sex education as a topic addressed as part of its health class curriculum, as do many Colorado school districts.

Buena Vista School Superintendent Lisa Yates phrased her recommendation for a resolution to ask to opt-out of compliance. “If we approve a resolution, we’re saying it is violating local control. While it’s questionable whether this is in line with local control, there is so much local opinion about this, it’s important [we] make this clear,” said Yates.

Colorado HB19-1032 was signed into law on May 31, 2019. It mandates that all Colorado public school districts are to shift the current, patchwork of sex education curriculums to “comprehensive human sexuality education.” The bill, whose sponsors included former public school teachers, stipulates content requirements and a grant program allowing school districts to participate in curriculum development. The act adds specific content requirements for public schools that offer comprehensive human sexuality education, including instruction on consent as it relates to safe and healthy relationships and safe haven laws.

Since HB19-1032 is now Colorado law, it funds a curriculum from K through grade 12 appropriating $1 million from the general fund to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to implement the law during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Yates outlined the timeline for curriculum changes and said she concluded there simply wasn’t enough time to modify the current curriculum before the current school year.

“The time between June and September to modify a curriculum for sex education – to define what it means – was short. I need to point out that even the [teaching] team has different opinions [on what comprehensive sex education means]. As a team, we need to seek the input of community members – do surveys, use existing meetings with parents to get inputs about what this community wants for comprehensive sex ed. The bill says you either do not teach it [sex ed], or you teach comprehensive sex ed.”

Among the board’s concerns were whether a BV resolution to opt-out was in line with the Colorado constitution.

According to Yates, “the Colorado constitution allows us to teach some, using our health classes to do that. That is standard. But without the resolution, my recommendation is we do not teach sex ed in the classes this year. [If we do] it could be done in the evening. Parents and students could choose to opt-in. We could partner with other community entities to offer it.”

The board’s discussion included the impression that a resolution would allow the community to add its voice to the comprehensive sex education conversation. But HB19-1032 is already state law.

Board members weighed in. “Can you say that comprehensive sex ed is not values-driven? It’s a lot of responsibility on the teacher who has to teach this,” said Board Member Ken McMurry.

“How is it they think that doesn’t violate local control?” asked Board Member Nancy Best.

“Is there another example of exerting control in a science curriculum?” asked Board Member Leslie Quilico.

If [the resolution ] is approved, and we continue with the current curriculum – will we also do some input from the community?” asked Board President Suzette Hachmann.

Yates said that by preparing a resolution, the community would  “add our voice – there are questions – is this in line with the Colorado constitution? It allows us to teach some, using our health classes to do that – that is standard.”

She also raised the prospect of addressing the topic in health fairs or other community forums as a health topic, referring to it as “sort of the drivers ed option. But without the resolution, we can’t teach any [sex ed], or we have to teach comprehensive sex ed. I am not prepared to lead this district into offering comprehensive sex education to students here.”

Yates said that some of her objection was based not just on the short time frame, but on the fact that the district does not have grant writing capability to write for grants to participate in the development of the curriculum.

“There’s a clause in here that says rural districts will have a preference. But I don’t have the capacity to write another grant right now,” said Yates. “We’d need one educator to review the grants. The general assembly is appropriating $1 million [for grants] but [some big metro district] will write a grant to write the curriculum. Then all of the small districts will have to follow it.”

“They don’t call it local control,” said Yates. “There are standards. It’s not going to be the state monitoring this… if we fail in teaching comprehensive sex ed – that’s where we’d be monitored.”

Yates pointed out where the real division on teaching comprehensive sex education may lie. “It will be a division in the community about what we’re doing if we don’t do this right. This isn’t tied to money. I see there is $1 million not going to other aspects of education.”

Click here for the actual details and language of HB19-1032

Editor’s Note: The co-sponsor of HB 19-1032, Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd, was the sixth-grade teacher for Managing Editor Jan Wondra’s daughter at West Middle School, Cherry Creek School District.