Topeka Some conservative members of the State Board of Education said Tuesday that sex education was too graphic or inappropriate for some students, and urged educators to change how the subject was presented.
"I want to make sure that parents understand the type of sex that is being talked about," John Bacon, a Republican from Olathe, said.
Moderates on the board, however, cautioned the board not to infringe on the rights of local school districts to set their own methods of teaching about sex; methods that they said are usually reached after consultation with local parents.
"I would encourage us not to mandate," Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan., said.
The discussion came as the State Board of Education considered draft health standards, which include sex education.
The standards are advisory guidelines for schools, and there is no statewide test for health instruction.
But even though advisory in nature, conservatives sought changes to the draft document - the most notable being a change in the way students are offered sex education classes.
Currently, most school boards have an "opt-out" policy for sex education that allows parents to remove their children from the classes.
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Bacon and other conservatives recommended an "opt-in" policy where parents who wanted their children to attend sex education would be required to approve allowing their children to be included in the class.
Board member Ken Willard, a conservative Republican from Hutchinson, said "opt-in" would increase parental involvement.
But Cynthia Akagi, an assistant professor of health education at Kansas University, who was chairwoman of the committee of health teachers and nurses that drew up the draft health standards, said the opt-in proposal was a bad idea.
She said it would result in children from homes with uninvolved or abusive parents not getting permission to attend sexual education.
"Those are the kids that need the sexual education the most," she said.
She urged board members to go back to their districts and ask their school nurses and teachers which method they preferred.
Board member Connie Morris, a conservative Republican from St. Francis, said she didn't want to go back and talk with health teachers. She said she knew her constituents and they would prefer the opt-in strategy.
"I feel like I have a good handle on their issues," she said.
But Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said the opt-in proposal would put many Kansas teens at risk of not receiving lifesaving information.
The opt-in policy is a "backdoor bureaucratic hurdle intended to prevent sex education from being taught in public schools," an organization spokesman said.
Peter Brownlie, chief executive and president of the group, said some teens wouldn't be able to get their forms signed because their parents are too busy, aren't involved "or worse, are abusive."
"These are the teens who most critically need accurate information about preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections," Brownlie said.
Akagi will now go back to her committee to see if they will incorporate the suggested changes made by board members. Another set of draft guidelines will probably be put together later this summer.
Even if language is put in the guidelines suggesting an opt-in approach, it would still be only advisory, conservatives said.
Bacon said he feared that some sex education classes may cover topics inappropriate for certain age groups.
He said a bed was used as a prop in one class, though he said he had no further details about that.
He said parents should know if the instruction is going to cover "vaginal, oral, anal or masturbation," or if they were going to talk about sex toys and condoms.
Akagi said she had never heard of a bed being used as a prop for a class.
She said she was confident that involved parents at the local level would make sure that sex education classes are appropriate.
"I think districts are handling it quite well," she said.
Morris said that when teacher notes go home to parents about prospective classes involving sexual education, the notice should be written in the "harshest light possible."
"I want them to know we're talking about masturbation," she said.