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Senate Bill 150 triggers reassessment of Kentucky health ed standards

People sitting in chairs face to the left. Many of them hold signs that say, "We will not comply with SB 150." They are at a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Aug. 7, 2023.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
In early August, activists and parents were disappointed with the Jefferson County Board of Education when it did not take a stronger stand against SB 150's anti-transgender provisions. The board adopted a policy on SB 150 that included the law's ban on sex ed in elementary school.

Senate Bill 150 set new rules for sex education in Kentucky public schools. As a result, the state is reassessing its academic standards for health and physical education.

Kentucky has academic standards for a range of content areas, and they lay out what students should understand as they ascend through elementary, middle and high school.

“They are the minimum learning outcomes for students at each grade level,” said Micki Ray, the Kentucky Department of Education’s chief academic officer. “They should guide the local curriculum.”

There’s a set of standards for health education and another for physical education. Both were slated for review in 2025, Ray said.

However, she said the state is starting the process early in order to consider any changes that may be necessary to meet the requirements of SB 150, which the Kentucky Legislature passed earlier this year.

SB 150 is perhaps best known for outlawing gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender kids in Kentucky and for requiring public schools to restrict which bathrooms trans students can use.

However, the new law also says public schools cannot provide instruction on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases to students in grades five or below.

The Kentucky Department of Education argues that this prohibition is technically optional for school districts based on the way the law is written, although state legislators who supported SB 150 disagree with that interpretation.

Regardless, the law’s restrictions on sex education in elementary school has implications for the state’s health education standards.

For example, KDE issued recent guidance for school districts that says at least one component of Kentucky’s current health education standards conflicts with SB 150’s elementary-level ban on sex ed.

That component is a standard for fifth grade that says students should be able to “describe basic male and female reproductive body parts and their functions as well as the physical, social and emotional changes that occur during puberty.”

How will the health education standards be reviewed?

The review process for any set of Kentucky academic standards involves multiple committees and typically takes two years to complete. The updated standards eventually will go before the Kentucky Board of Education and state lawmakers for consideration.

To kick things off, the Kentucky Department of Education launched a public comment period Monday that gives Kentuckians an initial opportunity to offer input.

Ray said people can provide feedback on a specific area of interest, such as the elementary health standards or high school P.E. standards. Or they can weigh in on the entirety of both current standards.

Committees will be tasked with reassessing the standards and recommending changes. Ray said they’ll take what community members say into account.

“They review the public comments and that helps them to basically isolate certain standards for review,” Ray said. “They look at everything, but it’s the public comment that often gives the evidence basis or the justification for making a particular change.”

Although SB 150 triggered an earlier-than-planned reassessment of the health and P.E. standards, it isn’t the only factor the committees will consider. Ray said they’re doing a holistic review.

That involves looking at what’s working well nationally or in other states when it comes to health and P.E. classes, and taking all that into account as they consider how to improve Kentucky’s standards.

“But truly the most impactful and the most informative part of the process is the public comment survey,” Ray said. “Because we want to have something that is truly Kentucky-specific and is meeting the needs of both educators and other educational stakeholders across the commonwealth.”

The public comment period opened Monday and runs through Sept. 29. Anyone who wants to offer feedback can fill out this online survey.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Education is accepting applications for people who’d like to join the Health Education and Physical Education Review Committee, as well as the advisory panels that will recommend changes to the standards.

Those applications are also open through Sept. 29. KDE especially is seeking health and P.E. teachers, as well as college educators, to serve on the committees.

“It’s very important that this information gets out to educators so that we can curate the best possible committees to advise and recommend changes to the standards,” Ray told LPM News.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.