Topeka An effort to require Kansas public schools to have abstinence-only sex education courses appears to have stalled.
Conservative Republicans on the Kansas State Board of Education who'd been receptive to the idea backed away from it Tuesday. Instead, board members plan to consider recommending that courses stress "abstinence until marriage" but include information about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.
A proposed mandate to threaten schools with the loss of state accreditation if they didn't comply came from board member Kathy Martin of Clay Center.
Martin, part of the board's 6-4 conservative Republican majority, has said the state should tell young people they're expected to avoid premarital sex and that it's best for their health.
But asked Tuesday whether she still is pursuing an abstinence-only mandate, she said, "I'm not sure."
One issue is the lengthy process required before the board can enact a new regulation. It requires public hearings, scrutiny from the attorney general's office and a review by legislators.
The process could take nine months, by which time the board's composition may have changed because of upcoming elections this year.
A regulation also could face resistance from local school boards, who've traditionally made decisions about what's actually taught in classrooms.
Here's a policy statement on sex education the Kansas State Board of Education reviewed Tuesday. It was drafted by Department of Education staff members: Each board of education shall provide a comprehensive program of abstinence until marriage in human sexuality that is developmentally appropriate, including information about sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. It is imperative that medically accurate and research-based information be provided, including factual information regarding contraception and disease prevention.
"I believe this is a local decision and should be made at the local level," said board member Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat. "I have faith in local boards."
Supporters of so-called comprehensive sex education were heartened that conservative board members backed away from a mandate.
"I'm just relieved that we're still talking, and that it's still a conversation that's on the table," said Debra Rukes, director of the Topeka YWCA's teenage pregnancy prevention program.
But if the board is still talking about sex education, it's also still split on even what a policy statement should say.
For almost two decades, the board required comprehensive sex education classes, but as it revised rules for accrediting schools it allowed the regulation to lapse. A rule adopted last year requires instruction about human sexuality but doesn't specify what that should include.
In March, the board told the state's 300 school districts they must receive parents' written permission before teaching their children sex education. Most districts had assumed a child would participate unless a parent objected in writing.
Only a few other states, including Arizona, Nevada and Utah, have such "opt-in" requirements on sex education.