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What to know about how Senate Bill 150 affects sex education in Kentucky

A classroom is shown, with a green chalkboard on which eraser marks are visible. In front of the chalkboard, there are several empty rows of chairs and desks.
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Senate Bill 150 changed the rules for sex education in Kentucky public schools, including adding new restrictions for elementary school lessons.

Senate Bill 150 might be best-known for prohibiting gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender kids. But the new law also changed the rules for sex ed in the state’s public schools.

The law sparked public scrutiny and outrage when the Republican-led Kentucky Legislature passed it earlier this year. Months later, the ACLU of Kentucky and several families of trans children are challenging SB 150 in an ongoing lawsuit over its restrictions on medical care.

But there’s even more to the law. It also directed public school districts to make a number of significant policy changes — including on sex education.

Here’s a rundown of how Jefferson County Public Schools is handling the new rules for sex ed, as well as how SB 150 affects the state’s academic standards for health education.

What are some major changes that SB 150 makes to sex ed?

What a lot of people know about the new law is that it prohibits instruction that explores gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation – for all grade levels. But it also forbids instruction on human sexuality in grades five and below.

The Kentucky Department of Education contends that school districts can choose between those two bans, based on the way SB 150 is written. Leading Republican lawmakers disagree and have said both bans apply.

Here’s something else the law changes: now schools have to get parents’ written consent in advance for students in grades 6 and up to be able to get sex education.

SB 150 triggered a reassessment of the state’s health education standards. What standards do not align with the law’s ban on sex ed in elementary school?

The state Department of Education advises that one standard is definitely out of compliance. It’s a benchmark that says fifth-graders should be able to describe the functions of basic reproductive body parts, as well as the physical, social and emotional changes that happen during puberty.

The Jefferson County Board of Education recently adopted the ban on sex ed in elementary school. But JCPS’ executive administrator for policy and systems, Jonathan Lowe, told LPM News they’ll still offer some education on puberty.

“What we’ve determined is there are things that are related to personal hygiene and personal health where we will be providing information to fifth-graders that are not really about sex. They’re about, like, taking care of your body and understanding what’s going on,” he said.

Sara Choate, a University of Louisville professor of public health and health equity, has spent most of her career advocating for comprehensive sex education.

Choate said it’s developmentally appropriate to discuss puberty starting in fourth grade.

“Our bodies and their functions are the most basic and fundamental things about our existence as humans. And school is one of those places where our children can learn how to care for and protect their bodies so they can stay healthy and safe,” she said.

Are there any other health education standards SB 150 might affect?

A community member raised concerns about the law at a JCPS school board meeting this summer, including concerns over whether schools will continue to teach kindergartners how to identify safe versus unsafe touches.

Lowe, of JCPS, said they will keep teaching to those standards, based on the Kentucky Department of Education’s guidance.

He said it’s a health and safety issue, not a matter of sexuality.

“What we try to do is make our best judgment about what’s good for kids, and also to comply with the law,” he said.

But remember: Kentucky is reassessing all of its health education standards. So the standards could change.

That review process typically takes two years to complete. A public comment period is open now, giving Kentuckians a chance to offer their perspective through an online survey. That period runs through this Friday.

What’s the impact of SB 150’s requirement that parents give advance consent for their middle and high schoolers to get sex education?

Choate, the U of L professor, said that historically it has been more common for states to have an opt-out policy on sex ed. That means students automatically get it unless their parents withdraw consent.

SB 150 sets an opt-in policy that requires parental consent before students can get any sex education.

Choate said that’s overly restrictive. For example, a permission slip can fall through the cracks for a parent working multiple jobs.

“Parents and caregivers should have a say in their children’s education,” she said. “However, the decision to have an opt-in policy creates an unnecessary barrier for a high percentage of parents in Kentucky who do want their children to receive medically accurate information about their bodies and reproductive choices.”

JCPS recently sent out permission slips to get parents’ consent for sex education this year. Parents who want their students to get that instruction need to fill out and return the form.

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

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

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