Monument’s school board is calling for an investigation into Colorado’s new sex-education law, claiming it violates the state constitution’s provisions protecting school districts’ rights of local control.
A resolution the five-member Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board passed last week requests “that the Colorado Association of School Boards fully investigate a constitutional challenge to HB 19-1032 and urges contacting every school district within Colorado to explore legal action against the state of Colorado concerning this violation of the Colorado state Constitution.”
“What we’ve done is ask our administration to let the other districts know what we’ve done and if they want to join us,” said D-38 board member Mark Pfoff.
Leaders of the Colorado Association of School Boards, which supports the state’s 178 public school districts with various services, will “look into the request,” spokeswoman Susan Meek said. “No discussions have been held at this time,” she said.
Under a 2013 law, sex education is not a graduation requirement in Colorado, thus schools can choose whether to teach it.
The controversial legislation that updates Colorado’s K-12 curriculum for comprehensive sex education requires schools that choose to offer sex ed to teach about consent, sexually transmitted disease prevention, same-sex relationships and abortion in discussing pregnancy options while banning an abstinence-only approach.
Pfoff said D-38 board members believe the bill usurps the authority of local school districts. “We’re opposed to the state setting curriculum, which is clearly defined in the state Constitution as what we (school districts) do,” he said. “If there is a need to change our curriculum, it needs to be a conversation our local school district has, not a conversation our state legislators have.
“What we’re saying is you’re forcing us and telling us what to teach our kids.”
Not true, says Sen. Don Coram, a Republican representing Montrose and and one of four bill sponsors.
“That is absolutely a bogus statement,” he said of the claim of a constitutional violation. “There’s no school district that’s required to participate, and no parent in a school that is participating has to have their child go to it.”
Coram said he became a sponsor because he wanted to see it “done right.”
“It was a bad deal, but we cut 17 pages, and people need to read the bill as it was passed, not introduced.”
Last-minute changes removed contentious language, inserted a waiver clause for some charter schools and provided $1 million in grant money for schools that cannot afford to teach comprehensive sex ed.
State Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, supports D-38’s decision. “I think it’s appropriate what the local school board did,” he said.
Lundeen argued the same point in opposing the bill as it moved through the Legislature this year.
“It mandates curriculum in a way that violates the state constitution. I think it’s a strong argument that needs to be determined.”
D-38’s resolution also states that the board “does not intend to approve a course of instruction that would be required to follow the contents” of the bill, as that would “constitute a violation of the board’s control of instruction, and thus, be unconstitutional.”
“We’re going to teach our kids this year what we taught our kids last year,” Pfoff said. “Our current curriculum contains much of what’s in that bill, so this is not a matter of adhering to the bill. We’re saying it’s irrelevant.”
All D-38 curricula align with state academic standards, said district spokeswoman Julie Stephen, including health education.
The Colorado Department of Education does not have regulatory authority over sex education and doesn’t track how many school districts teach it or what curricula they use, said spokesman Jeremy Meyer. “CDE cannot advise school districts as to whether their health curriculum complies with the law. Districts are encouraged to consult their own legal counsel; the burden is on districts to comply with the law.”
The hotly debated Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education Act adds certain content requirements for public schools that offer comprehensive human sexuality education, including instruction on sexual consent as it relates to safe and healthy relationships, and safe-haven laws, which allow a parent to relinquish custody of a newborn of less than 72 hours old to a firefighter or hospital personnel without criminal consequences.
The act prohibits emphasizing abstinence as the primary or sole acceptable preventive method available to students and “prohibits instruction from explicitly or implicitly using shame-based or stigmatizing language or instructional tools; employing gender stereotypes; or excluding the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.”
Also, schools are not required to include instruction on all pregnancy outcomes, including abortion, but for schools that choose to teach about pregnancy outcome options, all available options must be presented.
“There’s no school district that’s required to participate, and no parent in a school that is participating has to have their child go to it,” said Bill co-sponsor Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose and Ouray.
Contact the writer: