Board eyes sex ed policy change

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Parents will have to opt their children out of sex education classes in public schools if they do not want them to attend, according to proposed changes to Board of Education policy.

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Parents will have to opt their children out of sex education classes in public schools if they do not want them to attend, according to proposed changes to Board of Education policy.

Currently, the state school system’s policy is “silent” on the issue of whether parents would be required to “opt in” or “opt out” on behalf of their children, leaving the decision up to individual principals at each school, said Brian DeLima, Hawaii Island’s representative on the board. The classes are “age appropriate,” with grade school students receiving lessons on subjects such as “good vs. bad touching,” sixth- through seventh-graders learning about puberty and anatomy, and older students receiving sex education.

“The practice, as I understand it, is that if parents objected, they would opt their child out (of the classes). But it’s not part of any policy. So, we wanted to make the existing, what we were told has been the practice, a part of the existing policy — black and white,” he said earlier this week.

The updated policy draft, which has yet to be scheduled for a vote by the BOE, is an attempt to take on an issue that can have far-reaching impacts on a young person’s life.

“(The policy) was drafted in recognition that teen pregnancy in Hawaii is a major problem and should be of concern to the community,” he said.

Every school complex on Hawaii Island exhibited pregnancy rates for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 that were higher than the national average from 2008-12, according to a February report by the Hawaii Health Data Warehouse. Laupahoehoe and Pahoa had the highest teen pregnancy rates in East Hawaii, at 51.4 per 1,000 females, and 46.4 per 1,000, respectively. The lowest rate in East Hawaii was 33.9 per 1,000 in Keaau.

“The (new) policy still emphasizes abstinence-based education and also emphasizes the need for children to discuss these issues with their parents and trusted adults,” DeLima said.

The updated policy states a student “shall be excused from sexual health instruction only upon the prior written request of the student’s parent or legal guardian. A student may not be subject to disciplinary action, academic penalty or other sanction if the student’s parent or legal guardian makes such written request.”

During discussion of the policy draft at recent Board of Education meetings in Honolulu, public comment has tended toward asking the policy instead require parents to opt their children into the classes, he said.

“My view has been that we need to encourage the discussion between the children and their parents,” DeLima said. “Parents should have the ability to be informed to be aware of what the curriculum is to make an informed and conscious decision about whether they want their children to receive the sex education that’s being offered in the school. There needs to be some level of parents initially choosing to receive it or not.

“We shouldn’t assume that parents will not get back to the school or that parents will not make a decision. At the same time, I think there’s a recognition that … there are many demands in daily life for people in our community, and I think there’s recognition that maybe some parents won’t get back to the school. And for the students of the parents that don’t get back, they may be the very students that need the instruction to assist them in dealing with the pressures of everyday life.”

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DeLima added that before the policy comes up for a vote, he would like to include language that guarantees parents would have online access to the sex education curriculum, so they can make informed decisions about their children’s participation in the program.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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