Crowd shows up expecting sex education discussion at Shawnee Mission School Board

Although it did not have a place on the agenda, the controversy over supplemental materials for a sexual education class in Shawnee Mission middle schools drew a crowd to the school board meeting Monday night who were expecting some discussion.

Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis

The only person who spoke to the board was Mark Ellis, the parent whose original objections to a poster displayed in his child’s Hocker Grove Middle School class led to the suspension of the materials from the curriculum. A few people in the large audience said they had come expecting a discussion of the curriculum and were not aware of the protocol for speaking at board meetings. That requires registering to speak during the open forum.

Ellis, who did register to speak, asked when a final decision would be made on the fate of the materials. Superintendent Jim Hinson said the “Making A Difference” materials were being reviewed by an internal committee and that a decision is expected in approximately 30 days. He promised to notify Ellis of the decision.

As the meeting drew to an end, one parent asked the board when the sex education issue would be discussed. “All of us here are waiting to address the health and sex ed issue,” she said, telling the board of the confusion about the procedure for open forum.

Hinson told the group that they can submit comments to the committee reviewing the materials and they can come to the administration building to review all of the materials that are used in the curriculum.

After Ellis made news by questioning the poster, which listed various sex acts, Hinson suspended use of the supplemental materials pending review. The supplemental program had been purchased prior to the current school year.

Vickie Lenz, who came to talk about the sex education issue, said many attending the meeting were members of different congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said church members had become concerned about the materials and had been communicating about the issue. Karla Autrey, also a church member, said she had additional concerns about what limits would be put on computers that students will receive next year.

Ellis said he has had people from around the world reach out to him since he first raised the issue. He is backing legislation in the Kansas Legislature that would require parents to opt-in for their children to participate in the sex education classes. Currently, parents can opt-out, but otherwise their children attend the class. The bill was changed in a House committee Monday, removing the opt-in requirement.

In addition to the poster, Ellis said he has reviewed all of the “Making A Difference” material and finds all of the supplemental curriculum objectionable. “It is over the top,” he said. While Hinson has defended the district’s approach to sexuality education, he also has said he finds some of the “Making A Difference” material objectionable.