Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 | 2 a.m.
We’ve learned a lot about sex education in the Clark County School District since late last year, when parents became upset over behind-closed-door meetings in which district officials discussed the topic.
We learned that the issue is just as important to students as it is to parents. We learned that the issue is particularly important to those who live in Clark County’s rural areas. We even learned that the school district for years had taught students inaccurate information about sex in the classroom.
What we don’t know is where CCSD stacks up with the rest of the nation, mostly because sex education in the United States is largely a confusing mish-mash of wildly different state laws with no real oversight.
But a report released by the Guttmacher Institute last weekend has shed light on how states are teaching the subject. Here’s how Las Vegas' district, the fifth-largest in the nation, stacks up against the top four:
1. New York City Department of Education, 1.1 million students
With more than 1,800 schools, New York City is home to the largest school district in the country. And according to a recent report in Fusion, the city is just as disorganized as Clark County when it comes to teaching sex ed. According to the article, the city doesn’t track what’s being taught due to the sheer number of schools in the district. In Clark County, nobody really knows what’s being taught because the district lets each health teacher tailor his or her own lessons, provided they adhere to basic standards and use textbooks and videos that have been approved by the district. Unlike Nevada, though, New York automatically includes students in HIV/AIDS education classes unless their parents opt them out. The Silver State does the opposite.
2. Los Angeles Unified School District, 655,000 students
The LAUSD made headlines recently with a new campaign designed to educate students on the dangers of sexting, but California on the whole is already pretty progressive about sex ed. School districts aren’t legally required to provide sex education, though most do, and HIV/AIDS instruction is mandatory. Unlike most states, California schools that do provide sex education are required by law to use medically-accurate information, cover homosexuality and contraception and avoid promoting abstinence. And unlike Nevada, students are automatically included in the classes unless their parent says otherwise.
3. Chicago Public Schools, 396,000 students
Last year, Chicago’s school district found itself in hot water after a public charter school showed parents a presentation that suggested fifth graders were learning how to use lube and perform anal sex. The district ended up having to apologize to parents and explain that it wasn’t part of a new sex ed curriculum. Coincidentally, it happened around the same time CCSD held its closed-door meeting involving the sex ed advocacy group SIECUS. The ensuing firestorm from that is what kicked off the current controversy over sex ed in Clark County. Despite all that, Chicago’s school district is still far more progressive than CCSD when it comes to sex ed. The city’s board of education recently passed a policy starting sex education as early as kindergarten. Most states, including Nevada, don’t start requiring sex ed until around fifth grade. At the state level, Illinois’ sex ed laws are slightly similar to California’s. It’s also a state where students are automatically included in health classes unless opted out.
4. Miami-Dade County Public Schools, 391,000 students
Around 2009, a pro-comprehensive sex ed group called the Healthy Teens Campaign and SIECUS reviewed sex ed curriculum in Miami-Dade county schools and claimed to find a number of inaccurate and biased classroom materials. The report coincided with a push in the Legislature that year to adopt comprehensive sex ed, but the bill died in committee. Presently, Florida has some of the most conservative sex ed laws in the country, according to the Guttmacher report. It requires neither sex education or HIV/AIDS education, and stresses abstinence at the same time as actively telling kids that sex is harmful and should only be practiced within the context of marriage.
5. Clark County School District, 320,000 students
Nevada is one of the few states that requires parental permission before a student can take sex ed. Nevada also goes further than many other states in legally requiring schools to teach sex ed. But while state law doesn’t give school districts a choice, it’s also pretty vague about what should be taught. Which is why it’s possible for the Clark County School District to simply approve a list of textbooks, worksheets and videos and let teachers decide how to structure their lessons. The result has been, according to some students, an often confusing experience that tends to be either really helpful or a waste of time depending on which teacher is teaching the class. Since September 2014, the district has been wrapped up in a series of public input meetings over whether to keep its abstinence-based sex ed curriculum the same or convert to a comprehensive model. A vocal group of parents from rural communities is demanding the district stick to the status quo, while a group of students, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union want change. With the overwhelming pressure from parents, it’s likely that the district will hold the course, though the ACLU has indicated it would explore legal action to force the district’s hand. School board members will hold another hearing on sex ed at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Las Vegas Academy auditorium.