Back in January, Colorado lawmakers came under fire from the public for a new bill that would redefine how (and when) sex education is handled in public schools. While some of the changes might not sound all that unusual in the modern era, others, dealing with what defines a “healthy sexual relationship” and issues of “non-binary gender definitions” raised more than a few eyebrows. Particularly when you’re talking about elementary school students. At the time, sponsors of the bill struggled to clarify precisely what they were trying to accomplish. (CBS Denver)

“There’s a lot misinformation out there about what this is. This is absolutely not a mandate,” said Alison Macklin with Planned Parenthood.

She says sex education in schools is already happening. What changes is what’s included in that education. The bill requires information about all forms of pregnancy prevention not just abstinence, what’s consent and what’s sexual assault, and safe and healthy relationships whether they be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

It bars shame-based language and gender stereotypes. One Republican lawmaker questioned whether the bill goes too far.

“Is this our role as a state to determine what a healthy sexual relationship is rather than allow the parents to define that for their families?”

Nothing was really settled then, but proponents of the planned changes continued to move forward. This week the controversy heated up yet again, with hundreds of people arriving to protest at the state capital building. There were plenty of parents involved, but this time there were students on hand to speak and oppose the changes. Even though the courses wouldn’t be mandatory (assuming the parents proactively opt their children out of them), the protesters clearly felt that this was a case of the schools and the government intruding too far into something that should be handled by the families. (CBS)

“I wanted to be here to give my opinion on why kids should be living their lives like kids,” said Naysa Gallegos, a 12-year-old speaker at the “Don’t Mess With Our Kids Rally.” “(Lawmakers) should leave it like it is already. They are already teaching 5th graders (sex education.)”

Gallegos wasn’t the only student to speak at the rally. Brianna Zappavigna, 16, said the change to the law could push worldly beliefs on students who do not agree with them.

“It directly affects us. It directly affects me,” Zappavigna said.

As I mentioned above, there are aspects to these classes that many parents might not have a problem with, provided they were kept in the loop and the educational material was both relevant and age appropriate. Teaching elementary school students how to recognize when an adult (or even older child) is being inappropriate or acting dangerously as a way of avoiding sexual abuse is a worthy objective.

By the time they are in high school and past puberty, it’s probably still okay to teach students about the risks of unplanned pregnancy and STDs. (Again, that’s assuming the parents don’t prefer to handle that themselves and opt out of the class.) And while it will raise the hackles of some conservatives to hear me say it, it’s probably worth teaching them about all methods of birth control and disease prevention, not just abstinence. I take this position out of a simple acknowledgment of reality. Not every family is going to instill the sort of behavior that steers teenagers away from sex, and even the families that do will produce children who rebel against such ideas. Better safe than sorry.

But using an elementary or even high school sex-ed class as a laboratory for social experimentation is a bridge too far, in my opinion at least. These are questions for the family to wrestle with as they see fit. Even kids who lose their parents are supposed to have some sort of legal guardian in place. Perhaps if the schools were taking a more reserved approach I could feel differently, but when we have so many of them rushing down the Drag Queen Story Hour path, they don’t inspire much confidence.