Colorado House panel clears sex-ed bill

Opt-out option among contentious issues

DENVER – Many Colorado students would get a revamped sex-education program under a bill that House Democrats advanced Thursday.

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said with 15 Colorado teenagers giving birth every day, the state’s sex-education curriculum needs to be better.

“What we are talking about is making sure young people have healthy lifestyles. This is a health issue,” Duran said.

Her House Bill 1081 would create a program in the health department to give out grants – funded by the federal government or private donations – to school districts that offer “comprehensive” sex education.

Duran said the bill would not forbid schools from teaching abstinence-based classes.

“Abstinence is incredibly important. If you do not want unintended pregnancy, if you do not want to see the transmission of disease, then abstain from engaging in sexual activity,” Duran said.

But, she said, young people who have sex should know how to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy.

The bill would allow parents to opt their children out of sex-education classes, but Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said parents should have to opt in.

“These are our kids we’re talking about,” Stephens said. “I’m concerned that the religious sensitivities of families should be honored.”

Opponents also questioned the need for the bill.

Peggy Littleton, a former member of the state Board of Education, said the state adopted standards for health and sex education in 2009 after a long and transparent public process.

“We already have these. We spent a long time doing it,” Littleton said.

Opponents suspected that a hidden motive was to introduce talk of gay and lesbian sex into the classroom.

Indeed, the bill calls for “culturally sensitive” education that takes into account “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.” All of those words are absent from the 202 pages of health-education standards the state adopted in 2009.

Adrian Nava, a student from Aurora, said he is gay and felt ostracized in his sex-education classes.

“I didn’t completely understand how my way of loving was different from another person’s way of loving,” he said.

He supports Duran’s bill and said when people are open to difficult conversations, they stop being taboo.

The House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee advanced the bill on a 6-5 vote, and it now goes to the full House.

It wasn’t the first time this week that the Legislature tackled a touchy social topic in the schools. On Monday, House Democrats defeated a Republican bill that would have encouraged teachers and students to question global warming and evolution.

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