Human sexuality was a hot topic yesterday in the Colorado Legislature, with the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs voting down a bill that would have required schools to notify parents electronically and via a written note before sex-ed is taught to their children.
The bill would also have required public school officials to post all material to be used in the sex-ed lectures online 90 days ahead of time.
The sexual education bill, titled the Human Sexuality Education Notification Requirement (SB20-072), was sponsored by state Sen. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) and state Rep. Colin Larson (R-Littleton).
Gardner and Larson hold moderate to conservative views on human sexuality—Gardner vocally opposes LGBTQ+ rights, while Larson voted in support of an anti-conversion therapy bill in August 2019.
During the two-hour Senate committee hearing, Sen. Mike Foote (D-Boulder), Chair; Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), Vice-chair; Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins); Sen. Chris Hansen (D-Denver); and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), listened to witnesses testifying both for and against the legislation.
Gardner, who introduced the bill to the committee yesterday afternoon, assured the senators that the bill was “not an attack on human sexuality instruction,” but simply would allow parents to be notified in a timely manner about their child’s upcoming sex-ed, as well as gaining access to the instructional materials, in order to make an “informed decision” about whether to opt their child out of sex-ed.
Several of those who testified in support of the bill, including Gardner himself, argued that the legislation would improve relationships between parents and teachers, and parents and children, therefore setting kids up for success in the future–in addition to relieving pressure from the parents to try to search for the sex-ed curriculum on their own.
According to Gardner, “Parents, especially single parents, parents from families that are working–two incomes, minority parents, parents of students with disabilities…are going be helped tremendously by this bill.”
One of the first individuals called to testify on behalf of the bill was Michelle Hewitt, a victim advocate who helps assist young people with dealing with sexual abuse.
Hewitt stated that sexual education is not always appropriate for youth survivors of sexual abuse.
“[Child survivors of sexual assault] may look tough on the outside, but small things can trigger them towards those same feelings of fear and doubt,” said Hewitt. “Often we know what those triggers will look like[…]Sometimes, however, we will not know what the trigger looks like for a survivor. Please understand I am in favor of appropriate sexual education, and teaching our children about healthy relationships.”
Giuliana Day, a parent who’s leading an effort to place a partial abortion ban on the November ballot, testified: “Why is it that parents don’t have access to sex education? And this is the reason, in my opinion. It is because the sexual education promotes sexual pleasure; forces children to learn about sexual activities; risky sexual practices; abortion; consent to sex.”
Day stated that the sex-ed curriculum undermines “traditional values.”
Other testimonials in favor of the bill highlighted the LGBTQ+ content of sexual education, the subjectivity of the term “age-appropriate,” and even the alleged graphic content of the videos shown in lecture, which was brought up by Sen. Marble herself.
“If I were to have a child today in public school, if I couldn’t have this information, I’d homeschool,” Marble said during the hearing.
Among the testimonials provided against the bill was one given by Jennifer Mueller, Counsel at the Colorado Association of School Boards.
She pointed out that 90 days advance notice was too far-out for teachers to have a firm schedule and curriculum ready, and wouldn’t be practical if teachers planned to teach sex-ed early in the fall, as they wouldn’t know which students would be in their classroom yet.
Jack Teter, Political Director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, testified that there is already laws in place that allows parents access to both opt-out and access to curriculum.
“Existing notification requirements have been in place since 2004, and were enacted through a bill titled ‘Concerning Limitations on Education Regarding Alternative Sexual Lifestyles,'” said Teter.
According to Teter, the bill enacted 16 years ago requires curriculum to be readily available for parents and guardians, and for parents to have the ability to opt their child out of sexual education.
Elizabeth Hinkley, Reproductive Rights Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado, insisted that the language in the bill is already covered under previous laws.
“Current statute requires districts to provide parents with written notification and a detailed, substantive outline of the topics and materials covered prior to offering sex-ed,” said Hinkley. “Further, parents must be informed of the right to opt their student out of the instruction without penalty or additional assignment.”
Hinkley suggested that parents encountering difficulties with either obtaining curriculum upon request, or receiving notification of sexual education ahead of time, should reach out to the ACLU for assistance.
Sen. Hansen seemed to agree with Teter’s and Hinkely’s words. Before the vote, Hansen explained why he would be voting “no.”
“If there are folks who we’ve seen or heard from today who feel like they are not getting the information they need, then let’s address that, said Hansen. “[…]I don’t think we have a statutory shortfall. I think we may have some instances of school boards not being responsible enough.”
The legislation failed to pass on a two to three vote. Senators Foote, Fields, and Hansen voted “no” on the bill, while Senators Marble and Sonnenberg strongly supported it.
Sonnenberg suggested an amendment to shorten the minimum number of days required for notification from 90 to possibly 30 or 60, but did not actually offer it up for a vote.