Election 2021: Sex-ed views differ at Douglas County school board candidate forum

8 candidates running for district seats in Nov. 2 election

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Douglas County School Board candidates answered questions about much-discussed topics at a forum Monday night— like equity in education, COVID-19 mitigation strategies, youth mental health and employee compensation. But the first question of the evening asked candidates for their perspectives on updating comprehensive human-sexuality education policies in the district.

Eight candidates running for Douglas County School Board took part in the last of three forums organized by school district students, held at Legend High School in Parker.

Kids First candidates Becky Myers, Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar debated CommUNITY Matters candidates Kevin Leung, Krista Holtzmann, Ruby Martinez and Juli Watkins. Leung and Holtzmann are board incumbents.

Holtzmann and Winegar are running in District G, Leung and Williams in District E, Martinez and Myers are running in District D while Peterson and Watkins are squaring off in District B. The countywide school board election ends Nov. 2.

Candidates from both slates said sexuality-education requirements for public schools are established in state statute but offered different views on the issue.

CommUNITY Matters slate members spoke about ensuring students have the knowledge they need to make healthy decisions.

Leung said students need to understand issues spanning from abstinence to contraception to healthy relationships, and that the district is looking at how curriculums differ throughout the system.

“We used to have every single school have their own sex education and now we are trying to develop a more consistent curriculum,” Leung said.

Holtzmann said district policy aligns with state standards — like ensuring lessons are not shame-based, are inclusive of gender and LGBTQIA+ individuals, and are age appropriate.

“It's important for our students to receive medically and scientifically accurate information to empower them to make informed decisions to promote their own health and wellbeing,” she said.

Watkins said she does not find sex-education standards required in state statute controversial and that students need the courses to make healthy decisions. She would support the district looking into updating is policies.

Martinez said many students have parents they can talk to about anything, but added that's not the case for all children. Schools have an obligation to provide sexuality education, while parents provide their children lessons in values, she said.

“In the home is where that young person will hear what expectations are,” she said.

Candidates from the Kids First slate all spoke about making transparency a priority and offering families ample opportunity to opt children out of lessons they are not comfortable with.

Williams recalled her child's fifth grade teacher sending an email to families before they conducted lessons about puberty, with links to the information that would presented. She called that an important step.

“This gives parents an opportunity to have that conversation and do what's best for their family,” she said.

Winegar said statutes about education sometimes address issues beyond a school district's purpose, which she described as providing academic instruction. Sex education could include sensitive topics and parents should be made fully aware of what's in lessons, she said.

“There are some lessons that are best taught at home,” she said.

Peterson said he would start by asking for student and parent input about what gaps might exist in lessons or what updates people would like to see. He also suggested offering families alternative lesson plans, rather than just the ability to opt out.

“I'd also want to ensure that sexual education takes a back seat” to teaching subjects like math and science, he said.

Myers discussed her concerns with how much information is available to young people through social media, television and the internet. She told children “to guard and protect what little innocence you have.” The state has standards for teaching sex education, she said, but told young people, “it's not important to know everything right now.”

“You're not going to learn everything in school,” she said.

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