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August 21, 2019

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In contentious hearing, parents press School Board to keep sex ed policy as is

Sex Ed Debate With CCSD Board

L.E. Baskow

Parents, students and community members are shown at a discussion of sex ed at a town hall with the Clark County School Board on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, at Las Vegas Academy.

Sex Ed Debate With CCSD Board

Former CCSD student Caitlyn Caruso urges the Board of Trustees to continue and expand sex ed in schools believing that sexual assaults like hers may be avoided in the future on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. many parents, students and community members were on hand to have their voices heard in the auditorium at the Las Vegas Academy. Launch slideshow »

Stick to the status quo.

That was the overwhelming message from parents who showed up to the Clark County School District's high-profile public hearing Tuesday night to determine what to do about sex education curriculum in county schools.

The parents, many of whom were members of the prominent group Power2Parent, flooded the Las Vegas Academy auditorium demanding that the School Board support existing state law requiring parents to sign permission slips before their children are allowed to take sex ed classes. Power2Parent stridently supports maintaining parents' rights to decide whether their children receive the education.

"Let's not fix what isn't broken," said Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman to an uproar of applause, summing up what many in the audience came to say.

The School Board has been embroiled in a controversy over sex ed for a year, but no other issue has been as controversial as the state's current opt-in laws, enshrined in NRS 389.065 since the 1980s.

Supporters, including a large number of parents, say the policy protects their parental rights. Advocates, many of whom are affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and Planned Parenthood, are pressing the board to petition the Legislature for a change.

They want students to be automatically put into sex ed classes unless their parent signs a permission slip taking them out. Their reason: Many students, upwards of 6,000 according to some estimates, are excluded from the classes because their permission slip goes unsigned.

"I can't find a defense for opt-in,” said Laura Deitsch, a therapist who spoke against the opt-in policy. “Parents are not losing any control with opt-out. Why do your rights that are already guaranteed supersede [students'] right to life-saving education?"

Deitsch noted the fact that Nevada is only one of two other states — Utah and Mississippi — that hold opt-in policies, adding, "Why do we have to be these weird, old-fashioned renegades?"

Democratic former congressional candidate Erin Bilbray pointed out Nevada’s status as seventh in the nation when it comes to teenage pregnancy.

"We need to worry about the 6,000 kids in this community that don't have that information,” she said. “Please don't lead by polling. Lead by doing what is right."

Ultimately, the School Board led by Patrice Tew voted not to take an official position on the opt-in policy, which, while not completely satisfying to parents who wanted CCSD to defend it, was good enough.

The parents, many of whom wore matching white shirts and waved small posters reading “OPT IN” at every available opportunity, were highly vocal.

"It sounds like someone’s trying to separate me from my child," said parent Michayle Hales.

The meeting was at times contentious, like when Caitlyn Caruso, a former CCSD student and prominent advocate of comprehensive sex ed, recounted her rape at a young age. Her comments drew audible hisses and boos from some parents in the audience.

Regardless, the outcome of the meeting means little. Most School Board members, with the exception of vocal sex ed advocate Carolyn Edwards, publicly sided with the parents. And the policy itself, if it is changed at all, can only come from a vote in the Legislature, which will meet again in two years.

In the meantime, the board members vowed to address the problem of the thousands of students who are excluded from sex ed classes.

“I totally respect parents' rights,” said trustee Chris Garvey. “But what do we do for those children?”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to correct an error regarding the description of Power2Parent.

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