Liberty Common School says it doesn’t want to teach its students sex ed at all, but sex-related topics are regularly discussed by students in science, literature, and other classes.
So, to allow these sex discussions to continue (among students studying Greek mythology, for example) without potentially violating Colorado’s new sex ed law, the Ft. Collins charter school is seeking a waiver from the law’s requirement that public schools teach a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum, including lessons on consent and information for LGBT students.
But Colorado’s sex-ed law, signed in June by Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO), carefully defines sex-ed to allow sex-related topics to be addressed in literature, science, and other courses without violating the law, say the statute’s backers.
The purpose of the waiver, they point out, is to clear the way for a charter school, like Liberty Common, to disregard Colorado’s sex-ed guidelines and, instead, to teach sex ed as described in a “replacement plan” which must be approved by the charter’s school district and then the Colorado State Board of Education.
The State Ed Board will vote on Liberty Common’s waiver and replacement plan Wednesday during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m.
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Liberty Common’s replacement plan, states that the school instructs on sexuality “only within the domain of science.”
But the waiver application states that “sweeping definitions” of concepts like “healthy relationships” have “overbroad applicability,” meaning the school’s discussions in subjects like Greek mythology could be considered sexual education.
“For example,” states the school’s waiver application here at page 17, “Liberty students are exposed to relationships and situations described in Greek mythology, the anthropology of North American tribes, and those of many other world cultures past and present. Liberty’s art curriculum acquaints students with Renaissance art and artists such as Jan van Eyck’s Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (also known as Arrnolfini Wedding) in which the “marriage covenant” and the circumstances of the bride’s pregnancy are central themes. Students are asked to consider sexual choices, behaviors, and interpersonal consequences of characters in literature rather routinely particularly in the school’s upper grades. They are asked to consider the interpersonal relationship between Abigail and John Adams, intermarriage between European monarchies, the affairs of kings and queens, etc. In hundreds, if not thousands, of such possible scenarios spanning anthropology (the study of relationships), history, art, Western Civilization, literature, music, and more, “healthy relationships” as defined by the new statute are inclined to be discussed, from time to time, in ways that would trigger the cascade of non-academic instructional requirements as prescribed by the new stature.”
But no reasonable person would read Colorado’s new law and conclude that intermarriage between European monarchies, for example, could possibly be subject to the guidelines of Colorado’s sex ed law, says Jack Teter, Political Director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Teter points out that the law defines sex ed as a “presentation that teaches about abstinence or sexual activity in the context of student health or healthy relationships.”
“A plain reading of the text of the bill would indicate that Greek mythology, human cell division, a book with a gay character, and even puberty in the context of a science class do not fall under the definition of human sexuality instruction,” said Teter in a statement.
“If ‘Liberty’s human-reproduction curriculum excludes non-science content such as health instruction, and instruction in human sexuality’ and isn’t addressing ‘abstinence or sexual activity in the context of student health or healthy relationships,’ then they’re not teaching sex ed, and they don’t need a waiver to continue teaching about ‘the affairs of kings and queens.’
“If they’re seeking a waiver to teach about abstinence or sexual activity in the context of student health or healthy relationships in a way that excludes information about contraception, or excludes LGBT students, then the state board should reject their application as a matter of student health and safety.”
Evening Sex-ed Presentations for Parents
Liberty Common’s waiver application states that all “non-scientific” questions about sex ed are addressed at “evening presentations,” which are “fully pre-defined for parents.”
Are these parent sex-ed presentations connected to the curriculum for school’s discussion of human sexuality in science class? Do they support an abstinence-only approach that’s taught in class? If so, why?
A spokeswoman for Liberty Charter Headmaster Bob Schaffer, a former Republican Congressman, said she’d try to send a copy of these presentations to the Colorado Times Recorder within a few days. She also said the school, in its discussions of sex, does not favor abstinence for its students or address LGBT issues.
“The school’s instructional strategies are indifferent to the subjects you are suggesting as they are outside of Liberty Common School’s academic scope and curricular sequence,” wrote the spokeswoman in an email.
But there are indications that, when it comes to the sex-ed curriculum, Schaffer believes abstinence to be superior behavior for students at Liberty Common, which routinely tops Colorado’s list of high-performing schools on the SAT entrance exam.
In a Sept. 4 interview with Dan Caplis, an arch conservative radio host on KHOW, Schaffer and Caplis bemoaned Colorado’s sex ed law as being “hostile” to abstinence only.
“It is very clearly an anti-abstinence piece of legislation,” said Schaffer on air.
Caplis replied with, “If you’re not having sex, you’re not getting pregnant, you’re not going to have the STDs, but that’s just me. I know [Colorado Governor] Jared Polis knows better.”
In fact, Colorado’s sex-ed law is not anti-abstinence any more than it is anti-sex-before-marriage, because the law requires that both approaches be presented, not just abstinence.
Numerous studies show abstinence-only education leads to more unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Charter School Autonomy
Schaffer emphasized on the radio that his school’s request for a waiver from the sex-ed law more about his school’s desire to avoid state curricular requirements of any kind.
In other words, Schaffer would try to reject any law with sex-ed guidelines, but he thinks this law is “particularly onerous.” Liberty Common opposed the legislation before it became law this year.
“It has more to do with the desire for a charter school wanting to maintain curricular autonomy for this subject and in any subject,” Schaffer said on air.
Charter schools are a form of public school, funded with tax dollars, that are given more autonomy than traditional schools.
“We bristle at the notion of a new curricular mandate coming from the state Capitol under any terms, and this one in particular is onerous for a variety of reasons,” Schaffer said on air.
“We agree with that part of the bill, that charter schools should be able to apply for waivers,” said Schaffer. “We are just exercising that pathway that the Legislature, on a bipartisan basis, created for all charter schools. And we agree with that.”
Under the law, a charter school can simply opt out of teaching sex ed altogether, with no waiver needed. This would appear to be the option for Liberty Common, given that it’s claiming not to want to teach sex ed at all.
The law’s waiver is intended for schools that want to teach sex-ed in a manner that deviates from state standards.
“Why would [Liberty Common] want a waiver anyway – when sex ed is optional?” Teter of Planned Parenthood has said, referring to Liberty Common. “The only reason I can see would be to get around the requirement to teach accurate, inclusive, complete information.”
Parents can also decide to remove their kids from sex-ed class, due to an opt-out clause in the law. Colorado is one of only a few states that doesn’t mandate sex-ed or HIV education for all students.
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If the State Ed Board denies Liberty Common’s waiver, it will still likely be up to parents and students to monitor what really takes place there–and in other public schools’ sex ed courses, because the state doesn’t enforce the law proactively.
Update 9/9/19: This post was updated to include a response from Schaffer’s spokeswoman that the school does not favor abstinence.