As a bill to strengthen public school sex ed programs heads to Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ desk to be signed into law, many Republicans in the state are claiming it’s a “gutted” version of what was originally introduced.
The legislation, dubbed the Youth Wellness Act, lays out expanded content requirements to make sex ed curriculum more inclusive and medically accurate, and was one of the most contentious battles of the 2019 legislative session.
Despite its bipartisan sponsorship (Republican state Sen. Don Coram of Montrose was a prime sponsor), some Republican lawmakers spread misinformation about the bill and cited it as an example of “overreach” by Democrats, who control state government after sweeping the 2018 midterm elections.
Now, as it awaits Polis’ signature, Republicans are still spreading misinformation, this time about changes that were made before the bill was finally passed out of the Senate with only a day remaining in the legislative session.
Key aspects of the bill — like the ban on abstinence-only education, the requirement that sex ed programs be inclusive for LGBTQ students, and mandated lessons on consent — are present in the final version.
To be clear, these content requirements only apply to schools that choose to teach sex ed, and the bill never at any point forced all schools to have sex ed programs, nor did it change the fact that parents have the ability to opt their kids out of sex ed.
What did change is that the final version of the bill allows charter schools with sex ed programs to request a waiver from the state board of education if they don’t want to adhere to the new curriculum requirements. In the original version, charter schools were not allowed this option.
In addition, language that explicitly prohibited sex ed programs from teaching or endorsing religious ideology was removed from the final version. But much of what would constitute religious ideology as it pertains to sex ed — for example, the belief that heterosexual marriage is the only appropriate context for sexual contact, or bias against abortion or contraceptives — is banned from the curriculum regardless.
Another change to the final version — one that likely won’t sit well with conservatives — is the addition of intersex students when talking about the health needs of LGBTQ students.
Still, Republican lawmakers are touting the passage of the amended bill as a win.
State Rep. Shane Sandridge, a Colorado Springs Republican, celebrated in a Facebook post: “Vaccination bill is dead. Sex education bill has been gutted to a grant program. Two big wins for parental rights and liberty.”
State Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, also took to Facebook to tout changes to the bill as an achievement for his party:
“HB-1032 School Sex-ed, was basically brought back to it’s previous form and just about the only difference is for those schools that want to participate in this, there is additional grant monies available who did not participate in this subject. 1032 was an over-reach and was brought down to earth. Opt-out as well as opt-in are choices that the current school board can decide on their own. The progressives did not like the outcome, but all Republicans and a few moderate Democrats seen this issue differently.”
State Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, went on conservative radio host Ross Kaminsky’s show on KHOW 630-AM on Tuesday to talk about the bill. Like Crowder, he incorrectly suggested that the original version of the bill didn’t allow schools to opt out of teaching sex ed or parents to opt their kids out if their school did choose to have a sex ed program:
“It was almost a 30-page bill that got cut down to about a 12-page bill. I still voted against it, still oppose it, do not think it’s the right way to approach. However, it had no escape hatches. It had no abilities for districts to say, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to do that,’ or for parents to reliably opt out the way it was written. As amended, it has– it’s very clear that a district may choose not to have any sex ed, and if they choose not to provide human sexuality education then they are not required to follow this expanded rubric of what that description looks like. So, you can opt out completely at the district level.”
Then, there was this exchange between Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker and conservative talk radio host Randy Corporon:
CORPORON: The bill was going to pass.
CORPORON: But now all of these things are gone, including written notification now is required to parents for gender expression or gender identity programming. Some of these weird things that you know you have to actually go to Google to figure out what in the hell are these leftists talking about –.
HOLBERT: Yeah. Sex ed is still optional. No school is required to teach that.
CORPORON: They can teach abstinence, still. And they were on it to stop that forevermore.
In fact, nothing changed in the final version of the bill around the ban on abstinence-only education–except for the new provision allowing charter schools to opt out of all new requirements. Nor did it change current requirements surrounding how parents are notified when sex ed instruction begins.
CORPORON: Yeah. And I want to keep it moving, but the most important thing — I think, maybe,– maybe not the most important, but [something that] people were concerned about — was that all language was removed that made people believe that teachers were going to be required to, for instance, teach kids how to put condoms on bananas –.
HOLBERT [00:03:27] I think I might have heard Peter Boyles say that.
CORPORON [00:03:29] Yeah. — and talk about explicit sex acts. That language is gone.
Again, this is misleading. From the beginning, the bill required that all information provided to students be age appropriate. There was never any language in the bill that would have required teachers to talk about explicit sex acts.