Sex Education and Parental Rights


In this week’s email, a question comes from parents who don’t want their fourth grader to take the school district’s sex ed class:

From: Too Sexy for 4th Grade
To: Marybeth

In our school district, sex education classes are presented to children starting in fourth grade. My husband and I don’t want our children learning about sexuality in class at school unless it’s part of a core curriculum biology class in high school. We teach our children about human sexuality through the context of our faith, at home.

What can we do? We don’t want our kids in the sex ed classes, but we don’t want them being penalized for missing this instruction.

To: Too Sexy
From: Marybeth

Am I a dinosaur because I miss the days when fourth graders did dinosaur reports and didn’t have to sit through seminars about sex? Probably.

When it comes to sex ed in your public school, you have certain parental (or guardian) rights. Typically, those include the right to be informed that sexual health material will be presented, the right to evaluate the curriculum before it is presented, and the right to consent to your child’s participation or opt your child out of sexual health classes.

Most districts secure consent in the form of a notice sent home with your child that must be signed and returned to the school, though in some districts, simply notifying you about upcoming sex ed classes is all that’s required. Your consent is assumed if you don’t opt your child out of the classes.

It is crucial that you know what your state and your school district require, and what your rights and responsibilities are with respect to curricula about sexuality. You can’t cop out and say no one told you, then react angrily when you find out your seventh grader was part of an awkward demonstration involving a banana and a product named for a mythic Greek warrior. A simple Google search for “state sexuality education law” and the name of your state will lead you to the information you must have to make a thoughtful decision on behalf of your child. When you get this information, go to your child’s teacher or principal and (nicely, now!) ask what the plan is for teaching about sexual health. Explain that you want to evaluate the curriculum to see if it’s right for your child, and ask to see any and all materials, handouts, lecture notes, videos or slides that might be used. Don’t worry that you’ll be perceived as a busybody parent. That’s your job!

If you choose to opt your child out of sex education classes, don’t make a fuss about it; just opt out. Either arrange for your student to spend that class time in the library (Reading age appropriate books! What a concept!), or pick her up from school and do an impromptu math lesson comparing the prices of various sizes of ice cream cones. Having talked to the teacher in advance about your decision, it should be easy to facilitate removing your child from the class without fear of retribution. If you’re concerned about missing associated assignments, you and the teacher can come to an agreement about an alternative assignment that will count for school credit.

Unfortunately, many districts now are teaching what is essentially sexual material in the context of school safety seminars, as opposed to health classes, because they’re including information about homosexuality in their anti-bullying efforts. Parents have much less leeway to opt their children out of school safety seminars, so make sure you discuss this with your school administrators.

Generally, I think it’s sad that the culture is so sexed-up that our nation’s children are forced to engage in classroom discussions about issues beyond their interest and maturity. It undermines the role of parents when the school imposes its cultural morality, irrespective of families’ beliefs. Well-informed and engaged parents can protect their children’s innocence by knowing and exercising their rights.

Marybeth Hicks is a columnist for The Washington Times and founder and editor of Ontheculture.com.