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Don't want your 10-year-old to study hormone blockers and changing one's sex at Ill. schools?

Quit being such a prude. Besides, dressing up for "leather" day is fun.

Not sure who's a bigger asshole, the folks promoting this crap or the bible-thumping geniuses who abolished Roe v Wade.

Illinois sex ed law puts school districts in center of latest battleground in education culture wars

By Karen Ann Cullotta

Chicago Tribune

Aug 28, 2022 at 5:00 am

Students arrive for the first day of school at Locke Elementary in the Montclare neighborhood of Chicago on Aug. 22, 2022. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

As the mother of five children, Barrington resident Marsha McClary approved of her hometown school district teaching students about the birds and the bees with what she described as a traditional, biology-based sex education program.

So when McClary heard Illinois lawmakers had passed legislation mandating that school districts teaching comprehensive sex education follow new standards created by a New York City-based nonprofit, McClary decided to do her homework.

“I read through the whole thing and in general, I thought, a lot of these things in the standards are wonderful, but then I got to page 21, and for me, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” said McClary, whose children are enrolled in Barrington School District 220.

In particular, McClary was troubled that the standards required that by the end of fifth grade, Illinois students should be able to “describe the role hormones play in the physical, social, cognitive, and emotional changes during adolescence and the potential role of hormone blockers on young people who identify as transgender.”

McClary was also alarmed to see a requirement that by the end of fifth grade students should be able to “distinguish between sex assigned at birth and gender identity and explain how they may or may not differ,” as well as “define and explain differences between cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, gender expansive, and gender identity” and understand that “gender expression and gender identity exist along a spectrum.”

“For an 11-year-old person, I’m just not OK with that,” McClary said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act into law in August 2021, making Illinois the first state in the U.S. to formally pass legislation codifying new national sex education standards developed by SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change.

According to the SIECUS website, the nonprofit advances sex education as a means to create a “long-term culture shift that will positively impact all levels of society, particularly issues of gender and racial equity, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, consent, personal safety, and autonomy.”

The law, which was criticized by Republicans but passed with overwhelming support from the General Assembly’s Democratic majority, attracted little attention from local school districts, which at the time were being bombarded with volatile parent protests over Illinois’ COVID-19 mask mandate for schools.

Now, as students return to classrooms where most pandemic virus restrictions including masking have been lifted, the revival of a so-called normal school year is riven with dissent at some districts over the new sex ed standards, which have prompted both pushback and praise.

While some parents, like McClary, say their concerns are personal rather than political, the initiative has galvanized like-minded Illinoisans already frustrated by what they perceived as government overreach on masking and vaccines, leading to online petitions and social media campaigns lambasting the legislation.

In some cases, the dissent is mingled with upset over efforts to add literature to school libraries that some parents feel is inappropriate for children. In Barrington, police were called to investigate after a recent dust-up over the addition of the book “Gender Queer” to a school library prompted threats against school board members.

A copy of "Gender Queer," a graphic novel about a nonbinary teen, sits on a table during the Barrington District 220 school board meeting on Aug. 16, 2022, in Barrington. (H. Rick Bamman / Pioneer Press)

District 220 Superintendent Robert Hunt said at a school board meeting last month that administrators are not planning to use the state’s new sex ed standards.

“There’s a significant amount of content ... that we frankly cannot absorb based on the number of standards that we teach and the level of appropriateness of age in that content,” Hunt said at the meeting.

The latest flashpoint in the Illinois parent culture wars has also captured the attention of Republican candidate for governor Darren Bailey, who called the law “an extreme piece of legislation requiring an all-or-nothing curriculum for sex education in schools.”

“Students in the second grade may soon be required to identify consent, gender identity, and reproduction, while fourth and fifth graders would have to define different types of sex. The bill is obscene and fails to align with community standards,” Bailey said when the law was passed.

According to the standards, students who reach the end of fifth grade should be able to explain the relationship between sexual intercourse and human reproduction, the ways pregnancy can occur (including IVF or surrogacy), identify STDs and “clarify common myths about transmission.”

The U.S. Department of Education does not require public schools to teach sex education, nor does it recommend specific curriculum. States create standards and work with local agencies to develop curricula, a department spokesman said.

“Some national professional or educational policy organizations have suggested standards and curricula, but there are no federal national standards for any academic area,” the spokesman said in a statement.

In Illinois, passage of the new law does not override local decision-making granted to school districts, which are not mandated to teach sex education. Parents can also opt their children out of sex education lessons and review the curriculum before it is taught in the classroom.

But despite the right of local districts to create their own curriculum, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education said the statute requires all classes that teach comprehensive health and sex education to include course material and instruction that is “age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, complete, culturally appropriate, inclusive, and trauma informed.”

The statute defines “complete” as “information that aligns with the National Sex Education Standards, including information on consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health, and interpersonal violence,” ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said in a statement.

Topics that fall under a separate instructional state mandate for health education must include the study of human growth and development, family life, including sexual abstinence until marriage, as well as instruction in grades six through 12 on the prevention, transmission, and spread of AIDS, Matthews said.

Another mandate, “Erin’s Law,” which was signed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2013, requires Illinois public schools to provide child-focused sexual abuse prevention education that includes age-appropriate curriculum for students in pre-K through 12th grade.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hands child advocate Erin Merryn the first pen as he signs "Erin's Law" into effect at the Child Advocacy Center in Hoffman Estates in 2013. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

If any school district fails to comply with the new sex ed standards, “ISBE would first provide support and technical assistance to understand and help address the district’s barriers to implementation,” Matthews said.

School districts continue to have local control over curriculum, she said.

“The standards allow districts to introduce topics, such as gender, in ways that are appropriate for their specific community context, while still being inclusive, age-appropriate and medically accurate,” she said.

The majority of school districts in Illinois are unaffected by the new law, which only applies to those teaching comprehensive health and sex education. A recent ISBE survey found that during the 2021-2022 school year, 218 Illinois school districts offered such instruction and 480 l districts did not.

Kyle Thompson, regional superintendent at Regional Office of Education #11 in Charleston, about 200 miles south of Chicago, said many parents in his corner of the state are not opposed to offering high school students a “traditional,” biology-based sex ed program, but said families “don’t want all of this other new stuff.”

“Some of this is very graphic, even for kids who are 9 to 11 years old,” Thompson said. “The state wants more, but that’s not going to fly where I’m from, and this is a battle parents are willing to fight.”

Alison Macklin, policy and advocacy director at SEICUS, which published the standards, applauded Illinois for passing “the first law of its kind.”

“By tying the law to (the National Sex Education Standards), Illinois politicians have ensured the most up-to-date and best sex education will happen in the state despite political posturing and passage of time,” Macklin said.

The group’s national sex ed standards were first published in 2012, and most recently updated in 2020, she said.

In response to criticism that some issues discussed in the standards are being introduced to children at too young an age, Macklin said: “Gender identity is well-formed by the age of 2, and by kindergarten, children know who they are.”

Macklin said it is frustrating that some foes of the standards appear to have focused solely on topics such as gender identity, without appreciating guidance aimed at keeping children safe from abuse.

For example, the standards regarding interpersonal violence say that by the end of second grade, students should be able to identify child sexual abuse. It includes a section teaching students how to identify trusted adults they can talk to about uncomfortable or dangerous situations, including bullying, teasing and child sexual abuse.

“We respect every person’s right to make decisions for their family if they believe something is not appropriate, but it’s sad for us knowing that those students are missing out on the right to have that information,” Macklin said.

According to SIECUS, research has shown quality sex education programs can help young people delay or limit their sexual activity and increase their use of condoms and contraception, helping them avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Students who are taught sexual negotiation skills through sex ed are also less likely to experience sexual assault in college, the group said.

For younger students, the instruction helps them identify unsafe touch and understand that sexual abuse is not their fault, and makes it more likely they’ll tell someone about the abuse, the group said.

The programs have also been found to increase acceptance of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, “many of whom are at disproportionate risk for school absenteeism, dropping out, bullying, and detrimental sexual health outcomes,” the group said.

But this fall, the new law has elicited a wide range of responses from Illinois educators.

In a letter to parents posted on the Winnetka School District 36 website, officials said the school board “chose not to opt out or in to any curriculum changes with respect to comprehensive health and sexual health education.”

“The district will not be teaching any new standards or curriculum this year,” officials said, adding that the district has “begun to review what was released in order to better understand the state’s proposed changes.”

Chicago Public Schools have been following the SIECUS standards since 2013 and, “as such, already complies with the new law,” a CPS spokeswoman said.

According to the recent ISBE school district survey, roughly 200,000 students in grades K-12 were provided instruction in comprehensive health and sex education last year, and around 930 students opted out of the programs.

The ACLU of Illinois, which was “at the table” when the standards were being discussed, said the law preserves the rights of parents to opt their children out while ensuring students are not excluded or stigmatized because of their gender identity.

“A parent does have a right to choose what their children are learning in sex ed, but they don’t have the right to decide what other children are learning,” said Meg McElroy, senior program director.

Aaron Ridings, chief of staff and deputy executive director for public policy and research at GLSEN, a group of educators advocating for LGBTQ youth, said the group was “encouraged to see the progress Illinois is making by supporting inclusive sex ed instruction by passing a law at the state level.”

According to a GLSEN 2019 State Snapshot for LGBTQ students in Illinois, only 14% attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, and just 17% attended a school with a policy or official guidelines to support transgender and nonbinary students.

Only 10% reported receiving LGBTQ-inclusive sex education at school, according to GLSEN.

While an inclusive sex ed curriculum at schools is essential for LGBTQ students, comprehensive instruction offers benefits for everyone in the classroom, Ridings said.

“With these new sex ed standards, students have the opportunity to learn about people who are different from them, which is really impactful, and helps prevent bullying and harassment, and builds empathy and understanding among young people,” Ridings said.

Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, a Chicago Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, said her determination to pass the law was rooted in her days as an activist at Whitney Young High School, where she was an HIV/AIDS peer educator, as well as an experience with an “inappropriate incident” in one of her children’s preschool classrooms.

“Even the youngest children need to be aware of their personal space, what is appropriate, and good touch and bad touch,” she said.

Pacione-Zayas said it is important for the experiences of the LGBTQ community to be reflected in the state’s sex ed standards. “Pulling discussions of gender identity, expression and orientation out of the standards was a false notion,” she said.

Controversy regarding who should teach children about the birds and the bees, and just what lessons should be taught, has been raging for decades. The latest tensions are no surprise to educators at Hinsdale-based Candor Health Education, which has been providing sex education lessons for Illinois students since 1974.

Formerly known as the Robert Crown Center, which for decades hosted sex ed and drug prevention field trips for Illinois students, the nonprofit is expected to visit 600 schools during the 2022-2023 school year, instructing students in fourth through eighth grade, director of education Katie Gallagher said.

After nearly 50 years of delivering sex ed instruction in Illinois, Candor’s presentations have evolved with the times, Gallagher said, including a coed puberty class she said has “grown by leaps and bounds.”

But kids are still kids, Gallagher said, and during sex ed classes, many still blush, giggle and on rare occasions, even faint. “When our educators arrive at a school, the kids still say, ‘Oh! They’re here!,” she said.

While the Candor programs are aligned with the SIECUS standards, given the brevity of a 90-minute program, “there are certainly areas we do not have time to fully address,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher also emphasized that even with the state formally endorsing the standards, school districts retain local control over their curriculum, which she said allows schools and Candor educators to ensure lessons are appropriate for various age groups.

“With all of the divisiveness that is out there right now in general, this is one topic that is right in the thick of it,” she said. “There are strong opinions on both sides, but Illinois parents still have the choice to make the ultimate decision for their own children.”

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