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Published on -3/19/2014, 9:41 AM

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House panel advances opt-in sex education bill

Eds: Corrects to Thursday instead of Friday in first paragraph.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Parents would be required to sign written consent before their children could receive sex education instructions in Kansas public schools under a bill advanced Thursday by a House committee.

The House Education Committee sent the bill to the full House for debate in the coming weeks.

Kansas now allows each local school board to decide if parents must opt their children into or out of sex education courses. The bill would make it state law that districts must receive parental permission before students would receive materials on sexuality, diseases and related subject matter.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican and chairwoman of the committee, said the issue resurfaced out of concerns from parents about content.

"They do not feel it is appropriate or the place for education to teach issues that are overly or overtly so graphic," she said.

The issue was introduced during the 2014 session over concerns about a poster that was in plain sight of a student at a Johnson County middle school. The student's parents had opted her out of sex education instruction, but the girl was still able to see the poster, which discussed various types of sex.

"It's one of those things that I think are necessary because it gives parents the opportunity to find out exactly what's being taught to their kids," said Rep. Willie Dove, a Bonner Springs Republican. "This puts it squarely in the hands of the parents, where it should be."

Some school districts already require parents to approve of their children receiving sex education instruction, including Wichita's which has more than 51,000 students.

Diane Gjerstad, lobbyist for the district, said parents are given information to sign either at the time of enrollment for middle and high school students, or at parent-teacher conferences for elementary grades. She said the bill would cause changes in how districts operate.

"It will cause school districts to want to look at how they are doing it and how they are communicating it with parents," she said.

Critics argued that schools are the only source for some children to receive proper information on sexuality.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican, said she was disappointed that earlier work in committee on the policy, which would have required parents to opt-out of sex education, was ignored. She said the committee acted quickly to push the changes out with little discussion and votes lined up.

"It was very well-orchestrated," Rooker said. "It was well-planned in advance."

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