Let’s Talk About Sex. . . Education: With new sexual education laws in Indiana, CHS students, staff debate state of sex ed at our school

October 25, 2018

EDUCATION STATION: Interpersonal Relations (IPR) teacher Brenda Lester talks with junior Neharika Palivela about a project in the IPR class. Lester said that there have been no students opted out by their parents in any of Lester’s classes this year, and the new law has not affected her teaching, but has caused change to the timing of particular lessons.

This past June, Indiana legislators passed Senate Enrolled Act 65, a law that requires schools to seek written consent from a parent or guardian before providing lessons on human sexuality in addition to Indiana’s abstinence-only curriculum. Over the years, sexual education has been a controversial topic in high schools. The issue has stoked the passions of parents, students, teachers and administrators alike. In Indiana, the debate over abstinence-only education has often teetered along political lines—further amplifying the uproar. Caught in the middle of this debate, teachers like interpersonal relations teacher Brenda Lester have worked to establish a curriculum that both satisfies Indiana law and also the educational needs of students.

Lester said the new “opt-out” law has not affected her teaching but has rather shifted the timing of that particular lesson and content.

“I think, for the most part, students and parents of the students who sign up for interpersonal relations do so with the thought that this will be an important part of the class,” Lester said.

According to Lester, there have not been any instances of parents opting out of any of her classes this year, but while the law has had no ramifications on the curriculum, students have mixed reviews on its effectiveness.

According to Chapter 5 of the Indiana Code, Indiana law on sexual education in high school has guidelines on what educators like Lester are required to teach students. First, the law requires teachers to teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children. Second, the law requires instruction that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other associated health problems. Finally, instruction must include that the best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems is to establish a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage.

According to Lester, she teaches all of the requirements in the Indiana Code. Moreover, she teaches anatomy and physiology of both sexes, as well as human reproductive health issues such as cancers of the reproductive anatomy.

The “opt-out” law (Senate Enrolled Act 65), suggested and passed by Indiana Senator Dennis Kruse, requires each school corporation to make available for inspection to a parent of a student instruction material used in connection with instruction on human sexuality. Specifically, a school must provide the parent of the student with a written request for consent of instruction before providing any instruction on human sexuality.

“The main purpose of the law was to inform parents of what was being taught and whether they want their kids in the classroom to hear it or not,” Kruse said.

However, according to Kruse, the new law is not meant to alter the current curriculum in any manner.

“(The law) does not affect what is being taught. The main change is that it involves parents. Schools are required to notify the parents (of what is being taught),” Kruse said.

This sentiment was echoed by Valerie Piehl, assistant principal in charge of curriculum, who said, “The material taught at CHS will remain the same; however, parents will now be able to remove their student from class during that particular instruction time.”

To Sasha Matsuki, President of the Teens with a Choice Club and senior,  the new law appears to be superfluous and she said parents will find the sexual education curriculum unnecessary.

“I think most parents will think that if it’s taking time out of other classes then it won’t really be beneficial because you can find all that stuff on the Internet,” Matsuki said.

Moreover, Matsuki suggested that the entire idea of an opt-out policy is misguided.

“I think that the system would be a lot better if you could opt out or opt in to a really good set of classes where (sexual education) was more comprehensive. With our current curriculum on sex ed, I don’t know if it’s really beneficial one way or the other,” Matsuki said.

Additionally, Matsuki said she finds the current sexual education at this school to be lacking.

“Kids should know what they’re getting into and how to do it safely, especially with something like sex you should definitely know that you need protection, not only to protect from pregnancies but from STDs, that you should ask for consent, stuff like that,” Matsuki said.

On the other hand, Michael Greener, president of Teens for Life club and senior, said he found the new law to be a pleasant, useful addition to the current sexual education at this school. Particularly, Greener said he found the law to be handy in placing parents in a position of more control over their children’s education.

Greener said, “I think that it’s great that they’re adding this because it would allow parents to control that and be able to know what their kids know. Because of the amount of influence a teacher can have in the topic that they’re discussing, I think that that’s a good thing.”

In addition to this law, legislators passed additional laws last year that now require the Department of Education to make available model educational materials, model response policies and reporting procedures concerning child abuse and child sexual abuse. Furthermore, schools are required to implement child abuse and child sexual abuse education programs in kindergarten through grade 12.

On Oct. 2, CHS had an hour-long presentation on body safety to provide the new information required in the law.

“Sex ed needs to be comprehensive, medically accurate and ensure that when kids are learning what they need to learn, (the information) is presented in a way that they actually understand it.” Matsuki said.

Lester also said that accuracy in future sexual instruction is essential.

“The biggest shift I see is the need to stress to people not to believe all you see and hear about on social media. Some of the myths are scary,” Lester said.

Moreover, Lester said that providing accurate answers to the questions that students have, within the current curriculum, is essential.

Similarly, Greener said he finds the current education to be sufficient; however, he also said any more instruction on sexual education at schools would be overstepping boundaries.

“You don’t need to learn about protection if you’re going to teach abstinence sex education. If abstinence is what you adopt, then you don’t need that stuff and that’s not really something that should be taught unless your parents are going to teach it to you,” Greener said.

Ultimately, this adjustment of the legislature regarding sexual education demonstrates the difficulty in the decision regarding how to properly teach the material. Moreover, the variation of policies by state in comparison to the national standards makes the issue even murkier, and the availability of sexual education online and at places like Planned Parenthood provides avenues for students to learn this taboo information regardless of what they are taught in school. There is no easy way to create policies that satisfy everyone’s conflicting opinions, especially with such widespread disagreement.

However, Lester said she believes the current system is effective.

Lester said, “They are allowed to find credible answers as they become aware of issues and preventative measures that might involve themselves, family or someone close to them.”

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