Bayfield School District board members voted unanimously last month to remove the word “comprehensive” from the school district’s sex education curriculum, which may be illegal given the mandates of state law.
Two school board members did not return phone calls seeking comment. Superintendent Leon Hanhardt said he would respond to questions submitted in writing from The Durango Herald, but after 10 days he had not responded.
“The school board has done this quietly, and seemingly intentionally, to avoid public attention,” Bayfield resident Jason Mendoza said in an email to the Herald.
“We adopted a new health curriculum,” one board member said at the Feb. 14 meeting. “We are seeking to align our current policy with what we are administering with the curriculum. We are not doing comprehensive health curriculum at this time.”
Bayfield Board of Education president Mike Foutz argued in the meeting that sex education should primarily be in the hands of parents and not schools.
“Part of the intent here is to emphasize the fact that parents have the primary responsibility for sex education and not the district,” Foutz said. “The district should be supplementary in terms of sex education, and you’ll see that change in here.”
“It turns out that comprehensive can get the district into trouble pretty quick,” board director Matt Turner said. Turner did not specify with whom the district could get into trouble.
According to the Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education bill summary passed in 2019, Colorado school districts have two options when it comes to sex education: Districts can either opt out entirely of building it into their curriculum or teach it with strict state guidelines.
According to colorado.gov, the bill says that there are “certain 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.”
The bill also says that sexual abstinence cannot be taught as the main “acceptable preventive method available to students” and prohibits shame-based or stigmatizing language that has been used by schools in the past. The bill also prohibits using gender stereotypes or “excluding the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals.”
Pregnancy outcome options are excluded from the bill’s content requirements, but if schools do teach them as part of their sex education curriculum, they “must cover all pregnancy outcome options available,” not just adoption.
Mendoza said the board went ahead and made its decision without opening up discussion to the community.
“The school district adopted a middle school curriculum in September 2022 that didn’t meet the requirements of district policy regarding comprehensive sex education, never mentioning the conflict,” he said. “Now, five months later, the board quietly proposed and approved the policy change with no open discussion of the details, but the proposed changes were attached to the meeting agendas.”
Mendoza said he contacted the board with his concerns and received a response that “quoted state law out of context and presented objections to a distorted characterization of sex education as ‘focusing on the mechanics of and myriad types of human sexual encounters and varieties of sexual intercourse and the moral appropriateness of such encounters.’ It became apparent to me that the board objected to sex education, period, despite the data and widespread acceptance.”
Statistically, the U.S. has one of the highest teen birthrates of any wealthy, developed country. According to the National Institutes of Health’s website, abstinence-only sex education is ineffective at reducing teen birth, while the numbers have notably gone down in districts where comprehensive sex education is taught.
According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, comprehensive sex education has also helped to prevent violence between young people in relationships and helped them develop healthy relationships, as well as reduce rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors, sexually transmitted infections and adolescent pregnancy.
“It is a disservice to our students and our community for Bayfield School District to ignore the data to take such a prudish and backward step,” Mendoza said.