Sauk Valley-area schools won’t adopt national sex ed standards for 2022-23 academic year

In the main, administrators thought some of the content was inappropriate for designated age groups or will not provide comprehensive study of the subject matter

The information web page on School Wellness and Sexual Health at the Illinois State Board of Education website.

School districts in Rock Falls, Sterling and Dixon, as well as other Sauk Valley communities, are not implementing National Sex Education Standards for the 2022-23 school year.

Some administrators who reviewed the materials said in a variety of ways essentially the same thing: that in their entirety, the national standards were not “developmentally appropriate.”

Others pointed out that their district didn’t provide comprehensive personal sexual health education in the first place, so they would continue with existing health education curriculum, which also complies with state law.

The act doesn’t require local school districts to offer sex education – that remains the prerogative of individual school boards.

Most of the area school boards had this conversation with administrators during their winter meetings.

And as many administrators reiterated, parents and guardians have the option to remove their children from any portion of a health course or daily lesson.

Public Act 102-0522

The issue arose in 2021, when the state Legislature passed the Comprehensive Personal Health and Safety and Sexual Health Education Act, a bill that did not have the support of state lawmakers representing northwestern Illinois. The bill was signed by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Public Act 102-0522 went into effect June 14.

According to the act, if a district does offer comprehensive sexual education – comprehensive being a defining term – then that curriculum must align with the National Sex Education Standards: Core Content and Skills K-12.

Basic health classes with sex education components don’t meet the standard of “comprehensive” and can continue to be offered.

What are the national standards?

It’s a set of core concepts and educational milestones developed in a partnership between Advocates for Youth, Answer and SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change.

The alliance wants to promote the institutionalization of sexual education in public schools under the banner of Future of Sex Education Initiative. These standards first were published in 2012 and were updated in 2020.

According to the report, the aim of the material is to “identify the key concepts and skills that students broadly need to be sexually healthy during their school-age years and throughout the lifespan.”

Where districts stand

Dixon Public Schools: Superintendent Margo Empen said the district would continue with its existing health curriculum, which is taught by licensed teachers and supported by two community entities, the YWCA and the Lee County Health Department.

Empen said that when the units are taught, parents always are notified. Parents are free to view the standards being taught and retain the option to opt out.

Rock Falls High School: Superintendent Ron McCord said the board revised school policy to be in compliance with the new law at its Jan. 19 meeting but did not change the existing curriculum. Sex education will be taught as a unit within the freshman health class.

Sterling Public Schools: Superintendent Tad Everett provided a draft of a letter that he will be distributing to parents next week in which he explains the background on the issue. He said he has been asked repeatedly about this issue and replied: “I am not in favor of implementing these new standards in our K-5 curriculum.” He cited his opinion that with sex education, the family should be the primary source of information.

“My belief is that when schools intervene in these traditional family conversations, it subverts and usurps the authority of our parents to educate their children in areas of ideology, beliefs and preferences,” Everett wrote in the draft letter.

Everett said he recommended that the district not use the new standards for pre-K through fifth grades. He said the sexual education curriculum for sixth through 12th grades will be the same with one addition required by law: teaching the harm that comes from sexting.

Montmorency CCSD 145, K-8 district in Rock Falls: Superintendent Alex Moore said there will be a general health class in middle school that teaches basic reproduction and general anatomy. “In my opinion, it’s not our place as a school” to provide extensive sexual education, he said, adding that the opt-out option remains and the health teacher is available to speak with parents.

Oregon School District, serving Oregon and Mount Morris: Superintendent Tom Mahoney said the district will not have a comprehensive curriculum and will continue with existing health classes. Mahoney said this enables parents to be the ones to provide additional information to their children if they wish.

Guardians retain the option to have students opt out of the high school unit; those students are given alternative assignments and sent to study hall. Mahoney said there will be a class on “safe touch” for elementary school-level students, a presentation on puberty in the fifth grade, and education about HIV and AIDS for sixth graders. Again, those also have opt-out options for parents.

Regional lawmakers opposed

When the Senate bill passed May 20, the vote was 37-18, with Sens. Neil Anderson of the 36th District, Brian Stewart of the 45th District and Win Stoller of the 37th District all opposed.

When it passed the House on May 28, the vote was 60-48, with Reps. Andrew Chesney of the 89th District, Tom Demmer of the 90th District, Tony McCombie of the 71st District and Daniel Swanson of the 74th all opposed.

Anderson and Stewart distributed Republican talking points outlining opposition to the bill, highlighting the core concepts taught at each grade level.

McCombie, however, wrote extensively about her opposition in a piece titled “Cultural Revolution Rages in Illinois.” In its summation, she wrote, “The goal of sexual education is to help our young people grow into healthier relationships and become healthy adults. SB818 misses the mark. It is not age-appropriate. It is sexually charged, and in some cases not medically accurate. It takes away local control from our schools and requires diligence on [the] part of parents to research and hoops to jump through to opt out for their children.”

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner covers Ogle County for the Oregon Republican Reporter, Forreston Journal, Mt. Morris Times and Polo Tri-County Press. She has seven-plus years of experience in journalism and has won numerous awards, including a first place award for investigative reporting from the WNA.