Education , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | February 21, 2023

Limits on school sex-ed and transgender lessons advance

Ray Carter

Oklahoma public schools would be barred from giving young children lessons focused on sexual orientation or gender identity while those students are in elementary school under legislation that has passed a state House committee.

“This bill speaks directly to the heart of parents’ fundamental right to make decisions about their child’s education in public schools with respect to sexual education,” said state Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.

House Bill 2546, by O’Donnell, states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity shall not occur in kindergarten through grade five or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

O’Donnell noted 12 other states already have in place, or are considering, similar restrictions.

“It doesn’t completely eliminate the discussion of sexually transmitted diseases or HIV in the upper grades, but children (ages) six through 11 probably don’t need that type of instruction,” O’Donnell said.

He said the legislation allows discussion of sexual-education issues in middle school and beyond, but said those discussions must be age appropriate, noting “you might say things to a 17-year old that may not be appropriate for a 12-year old.”

“Grades kindergarten through five, that discussion is off the table,” O’Donnell said. “From six forward, it needs to be age appropriate.”

Parental concerns about the content of public schools’ sexual-education courses have increased in recent years as those classes have begun covering topics far beyond basic biology and reproduction.

Materials used for sex-education instruction in Tulsa Public Schools in recent years informed students they may be transgender, which the lesson defined as occurring when “a person’s body parts don’t match your gender identity,” or even “pansexual,” which the lesson defined as a “person who is sexually attracted to people who are male, female, agender, transgender, or gender nonconforming.”

Materials from another lesson used in Tulsa schools included stick-figure illustrations of individuals engaging in anal sex as part of a lesson on “Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections.”

In a 2020 report on sex education in public schools, Cathy Ruse, an attorney and senior fellow at the socially conservative Family Research Council, wrote, “Preparing children to have sex with multiple partners over the course of a lifetime seems to be a basic assumption underlying much of sexual education content.”

Research indicates many school sexual-education programs are ineffective or worse.

A 2019 report by The Institute for Research and Evaluation reviewed 120 prior studies of school-based sex education, including 60 U.S. studies and 43 non-U.S. studies. The review showed only six rigorous studies found evidence of effectiveness (defined as improvement on a protective outcome such as abstinence, condom use, pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases, without other negative effects, measured 12 months after program completion).

In contrast, the review found that school-based comprehensive sex education (CSE) programs that attempted to show effectiveness “failed 87% of the time.” In the United States, 12 percent of studies even found negative effects following school sex-education programs, such as decreased condom use or increased sexual activity, number of partners, oral sex, forced sex, STDs, or pregnancy.

One official who testified at an Oklahoma legislative study conducted last October also warned lawmakers that school sex-ed programs often fail to reduce risky behavior.

Audrey Werner, a longtime public-health nurse in Texas, worked for 14 years for a county health department and nine years at a clinic treating patients with HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. During her career, Werner served five years as a school nurse whose duties included teaching sex education.

“For the five years I taught sex ed in the schools, I believed what I was told in my training, that I would decrease the teen pregnancy and the STD rates,” Werner said. “However, when I moved to the STD/HIV clinic, I saw the opposite was true. More children were becoming sexually active and the rape of women and children was exploding.”

O’Donnell said parents who feel their children need sexual education prior to the sixth grade still have that opportunity—but at the time, place, and method of their choosing.

“Parents are probably going to be in tune with their children, more so than any other human beings,” O’Donnell said. “And so if they want to seek that education … that’s up to the parents to control that narrative.”

HB 2546 passed the House Common Education Committee on a 10-2 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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