When it comes to sex education classes in Kane County public schools, sweeping changes in how the subject is taught in class aren’t on the horizon, despite a new state law that takes effect this academic year, school officials said.
Some local districts have opted out, which is allowed under the law, to give them more time. Others said they’re already teaching the topics outlined in Illinois’ new law and note that it doesn’t govern how students are taught.
“The standards really articulate what our students should know, understand and be able to do. They do not tell us how to inform our instruction or the curriculum in which we should be using to inform our instruction,” St. Charles School District 303 Superintendent Paul Gordon said. “We are using our current standards that the district has been using for a number of years and will continue with our current curriculum.”
Illinois’ new law, which Gov. JB Pritzker signed last year, requires schools that teach comprehensive sex education to follow the National Sex Education Standards. The NSES is a national set of standards and guidelines for teaching personal health and safety to elementary school students and comprehensive sex education to middle and high school students. Districts that teach comprehensive sex education are now required to meet those standards, but may choose their own curriculum.
The guidelines offer “comprehensive personal health and safety education and comprehensive sexual health education as age and developmentally appropriate education 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,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Illinois districts, however, are not required to teach comprehensive sex education, and some Kane County districts won’t be adopting all of the new guidelines in their classrooms this fall. Geneva, St. Charles and Kaneland school districts won’t be making many changes to their current programs and curriculum.
At Geneva District 304′s Policy Committee meeting Jan. 24, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Andrew Barrett said, “We have and have always had a comprehensive health education program in our district and that program meets all of the applicable requirements embedded in this policy and embedded in this new law.”
The district’s health education curriculum includes consent education, CPR and teen dating violence.
“These are all issues that are addressed in our comprehensive health program across all the levels. And so that is why we think we do not have a K-12 program that relies on the NSES,” Barrett said.
During a July 25 special St. Charles school board meeting, Gordon noted the district “did not opt” for the new standards.
“Our district currently follows the Illinois state standards for comprehensive health education and will continue to do that,” he said. “A really important aspect of the board’s work is around the curriculum. The board adopts all of our curriculum.”
Gordon said if the district adopted any of the new curriculum for middle school and high school students, it would have to first do a comprehensive review of the standards.
“That will take many months for us to see if there are aspects that make some sense or not,” he said.
Even though Kaneland School District 302 has opted out of implementing the new standards, Superintendent Todd Leden said in an email that the district is “reviewing the standards to see what portions may be beneficial to enhance our current health program practices.”
Leden wrote that Kaneland always has had a “comprehensive health program” in place, and that the district will continue to use that program.
“We will not formally be opting to follow every standard as it is written and published,” he wrote. “We have opted out in order to allow our staff committees to do an in-depth review of the language and make choices to the best developmental vocabulary and practices that are appropriate for our student community.”
Batavia School District 101 does not have a comprehensive sex education curriculum, Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer for the district, said. As of now, the district has not adopted the new NSES curriculum.
“Our district will continue to examine the newly adopted standards and resources that ISBE will provide, but changes are not planned, especially for the rapidly approaching 2022-23 school year,” he said in an email.
Kim Cook, a St. Charles resident who is a former elementary school nurse and a certified health education specialist, is the founder of Sex Education Alliance, an organization composed of independent sex education professionals who work to make sex education more accessible.
Cook said adopting the NSES guidelines is “long overdue” in Illinois as many children learn about sex from their peers.
“Despite what some politicians say, the vast majority of parents would like sex education to be taught in school,” Cook wrote in an email. “Many parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about this part of the human experience. By teaching sex ed in school, it opens up the lines of communication between parent and child.
“The average age for accessing porn on the home computer is age 11. If parents fear schools are misinforming kids, think again. It’s happening under a parent’s unknowing eye.”