Denver Public Schools debate how to teach kids to avoid the clap

On Thursday night, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education will talk about sex, baby.

More specifically, they'll talk about sex ed -- and how it's important that teenagers with raging libidos "have access to science-based, comprehensive, medically-accurate, culturally relevant, and age-appropriate sexuality education." In other words, it's not okay to teach kids that if they um, you know, they'll go blind. Or grow hair on their palms. Or whatever scary side effect parents are inventing these days.

The board will consider passing a resolution that basically declares that sex ed is important to the district, because it helps prevent unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STDs. The resolution also calls for the district to seek grant funding and community partnerships to teach sex ed.

But it also says that, ultimately, parents have the right to "make health decisions" for their children, so long as those decisions don't violate the law. After all, sex ed in Colorado -- and DPS -- isn't mandatory.

"As I understand it, the schools make site-based decisions on whether to teach health and sex ed and if so, what would be in there," says DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn. Asked how many of DPS's schools teach it, Vaughn says he's not sure.

The original draft of the resolution included a provision to declare June "Colorado Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Month" -- Sex Month, for short -- because there's no better time to teach kids about sex than the hot, hot summer. But Vaughn says the board decided it was "not in their purview to declare something on behalf of the state."

If schools do decide to delve into Babymaking 101, they aren't allowed to solely push abstinence, thanks to a state law passed in 2007. The state's new academic content standards also chip away at abstinence-only education by requiring schools seeking accreditation to meet the new health education standards, which include stuff about sex.

But school districts can still pick and choose which sex stuff they teach -- and which stuff they leave kids to pick up from MTV. "Say they only do fifth-grade puberty," says Karen Connell, supervisor for prevention initiatives for the Colorado Department of Education. "Then technically they could say they are meeting the fifth-grade health standards and anything beyond that is going to be their call. There is no law at the state level that would have us come after them to say, 'Teach it in eighth grade too.'"

Hopefully, DPS's resolution will direct Denver schools not to do that. After all, do we really want the city's children learning everything they know about sex from Snooki?

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar