Likely sex education rule changes would bring much of the rest of the state to Aurora school districts’ standards

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AURORA | A bill expanding sex education standards in Colorado public schools and requiring parents to opt out of classes may feel familiar to local parents.

Last month, legislation spelling out new sex ed standards passed its most difficult tests, making it through both the Colorado state House and Senate on party line votes. House Bill 1081, first introduced by Denver Democrat Crisanta Duran, creates a new structure for sex education on many different levels. First, the law establishes a grant program through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Under the law, federal and private money would be available to schools that follow the “age-appropriate, culturally sensitive and comprehensive human sexuality education” spelled out in the bill. In other words, the law includes updated standards and curriculum specifically designed to be sensitive to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, as well as immigrants.

What’s more, the legislation would require that parents with any objections take the step to remove their children from classes. That opt-out requirement, along with parts of the new standards, drew a brouhaha from state Republicans, many of whom voiced their objections on the House and Senate floors last month. Legislators like Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said the curriculum spelled out in the bill is best left in the home.

“I think the family is the best place for these kinds of conversations to happen,” Roberts told fellow state senators in March.

But such objections may already be moot in Aurora and the other large school districts across the Denver metro area. For example, the Cherry Creek School District already follows an opt-out policy, and its sex ed curriculum follow what’s spelled out in the state standards.

“The assumption is that under an opt-out policy, their child is in the class unless they opt them out,” said Julie Cyrulik, the Cherry Creek district health coordinator and a teacher at Thunder Ridge Middle School. “We follow what’s been established. Our guideline is the state health standards. They’re by grade level.

“What the state is doing is currently what we’re doing at Cherry Creek,” she added.

In Cherry Creek schools, students start health and sex education in fifth grade. According to Cyrulik, those lessons follow the state guidelines and outline lessons about puberty, reproductive systems and other basic anatomy lessons. That education continues into middle school, where students are taught an abstinence-based approach. In high school, students receive information about different means of contraception as well as abstinence. A health education class is a requirement for graduation in the district.

The current state guidelines require an opt-in approach for districts to qualify for state funds.

“We never have used any state funds for (health) education,” Cyrulik said. “Since health education is required in Cherry Creek, (opting out) just makes sense. The promise is that students can accommodate it in their schedule.”

As far as the new standards regarding approaches that are sensitive to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, Cyrulik said the district has worked to update curriculum with the evolving needs of its students. She insisted that Cherry Creek is “cognizant of that in all of our content areas,” and added that the district has been proactive when it comes to elements like requiring students to opt-out and offer a mixed approach that includes information about abstinence, contraception and other factors. It’s all meant to reach students who have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips through smartphones, tablet computers and other devices.

“I definitely think that our kids are very tech savvy and sophisticated,” she said. “Social media has a huge role in their world and what’s going on around them.”

Officials from Aurora Public Schools didn’t comment at length about the new sex-ed law, stating that the district does not offer feedback about pending legislation. However, according to APS spokeswoman Paula Hans, the district “will comply fully with the law.” In 2011, the APS Board of Education finalized a new system of graduation requirements that allowed students more flexibility in choosing electives that included new science, math and world language credits that more closely align with requirements from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The changes initially drew criticism because they eliminated the requirement that high school freshman take health and physical education classes.

House Bill 1081 is slated to return to the state House for review of Senate amendments.

 

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at [email protected] or 720-449-9707