Schooled Reporting on education

Arizona lifts rules about AIDS and HIV lessons

Education | Family groups emphasize the importance of parental involvement in sex education
by Laura Edghill
Posted 4/24/19, 04:25 pm

Arizona recently repealed a state law requiring that AIDS and HIV instruction in schools adopt a traditional sexual ethic. The change poses a challenge to family groups working to protect children from harmful sexual education.

The 1991 law said that AIDS and HIV education could not portray homosexuality as a positive lifestyle or suggest that some methods of homosexual sex are safe. In March, two LGBT organizations sued the state Board of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman to overturn the law. The plaintiffs claimed that even though the law in question was constrained to the specific topic of HIV and AIDS, it unfairly stigmatized LGBT students. Many Arizona lawmakers also contended that the language was outdated, reflecting a time when conversations about AIDS were riddled with fear and stereotypes.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, declined to defend the suit, and the state legislature took swift action to amend the language of the law in question. Gov. Doug Ducey, also a Republican, signed the legislation earlier this month. The remaining language states that school districts may develop their own courses of study for AIDS instruction, and that at a minimum they must be age appropriate, medically accurate, and promote abstinence.

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy supported the law’s repeal, but the center’s president, Cathi Herrod, told me that her organization is deeply concerned about what’s being taught in the classrooms.

“The law was going to be repealed one way or another,” she said. “The choice was to have it repealed by a court decision or legislative action.” In what Herrod described as one of the hardest strategic decisions she’s had to make in 30 years of public policy work, the center supported the legislative solution rather than a potentially messy and protracted court battle. “We should all be able to agree that AIDS instruction should be medically accurate and age appropriate,” she said, emphasizing that the law only applies to AIDS education.

Arizona remains one of only a handful of states that requires parental consent before a student receives sex education of any kind in the public schools. The vast majority of states operate instead on an “opt-out” basis, in which parents must take action if they do not want their child to participate in sex education. Arizona also leaves curriculum decisions up to individual school districts, provided they follow state guidelines. That means Arizona public school districts are still required to notify parents of their ability to withdraw their children from AIDS instruction specifically or any sex education instruction being offered.

“All of this shows how critical it is for parents to engage in what’s going on at their local schools,” Herrod said. “The sex education programs being offered in local schools would be offensive to many parents. Parents have to engage and be involved.”

Associated Press/Photo by Mark Lennihan (file) Associated Press/Photo by Mark Lennihan (file) A yeshiva in the Brooklyn borough of New York

Religious education wins

Religious and other private schools in New York state won an important victory last week when a state judge invalidated proposed guidelines for monitoring private schools.

“We join with the more than 1,000 private schools that challenged the new guidelines in applauding the state Supreme Court’s decision declaring the new State Education Department guidelines null and void,” said Avi Schick, an attorney for Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), an organization committed to promoting yeshiva, or orthodox Jewish education.

New York’s Education Department in November proposed the rules in response to complaints that some yeshivas, in particular, weren’t spending sufficient time on proper English instruction, as well as science and history. Primarily taught in Yiddish, yeshiva education covers elementary and secondary grades and promotes the importance of strong communities, as well as teaching a deep respect for the morals and history of the Jewish faith and culture.

The guidelines would have required visits by a local public school staff member to yeshivas and all other private schools once every five years to determine if the schools were providing sufficient instruction in state-mandated subjects.

PEARLS and other groups sued over the regulations in March, arguing that they were unconstitutional and that the state Education Department lacked the authority to impose them. Other plaintiffs included groups representing the state’s private Catholic schools, as well as its nonreligious ones.

State Supreme Court Judge Christina Ryba stopped short of ruling that the regulations violated the state’s constitutional protections for religious freedom, instead stating that the guidelines were not implemented in compliance with the State Administrative Procedure Act.

Mark Lauria, executive director of the New York State Association of Independent Schools, called the regulations ill-conceived, adding, “We very much appreciate that the judge recognized the merits of our legal arguments.” —L.E.

Facebook/Wolf Point Wolves Facebook/Wolf Point Wolves The Wolf Point gymnasium

Pursuing equality

The U.S. Department of Education sent a team to a Montana school district this week to investigate long-standing allegations of racism against Native Americans. The investigation is a response to a formal complaint filed last June alleging systemic racism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the Wolf Point School District.

Even though the district and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation where it is located are majority Native American, the complaint alleges that white residents control local politics, businesses, and the schools. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes asked the U.S. departments of Justice and Education to intervene, stating, “The unequal treatment of Native students is detrimental to their development and education and violates federal law.”

This is not the first time Wolf Point has been on the federal radar. The Education Department confirmed instances of racism in 2003 and monitored the district for five years afterward. The complaint states that even with that intervention, Native American students are routinely denied academic and extracurricular opportunities that white students receive, are more than twice as likely to be suspended, and are subject to retribution when they raise concerns related to racism.

The school district asserts that it is doing its best to mitigate the concerns. “Wolf Point Schools works constantly to address the challenges facing our students and, in particular, our indigenous students,” Jeana Lervick, a lawyer representing the district, told The New York Times. “Our district is aware of historical issues in our nation and as educators do everything in our power to address them.” —L.E.

YouTube/Fort Bluff Camp YouTube/Fort Bluff Camp Fort Bluff Camp in Dayton, Tenn.

Courtroom drama

A Tennessee judge has ordered the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) to pay Bryan College $120,000 in a dispute over camp property. Bryan, a Christian liberal arts college, claims ownership of the 68-acre Fort Bluff Camp in Dayton, Tenn., and says NACA should pay it $10,000 a month in rent. Until 2016, NACA had owned and operated camps and retreats on the property for more than four decades before it ran into financial difficulties stemming from the 2009 indictment and conviction of its founder, Mike Crain, for sexually assaulting a camper and her mother, who was a Fort Bluff employee.

NACA claims its lease agreement with Bryan was never legal in the first place. It stopped paying rent a little over a year ago on the counsel of two independent legal advisers.

Last Wednesday, Rhea County Judge Shannon Garrison ruled in favor of Bryan, stating that the lease agreement does grant possession of the property to the college. On Tuesday, Garrison ordered NACA to pay Bryan $120,000.

John Ballinger, CEO of the Fort Bluff Camp, told me NACA plans to file an appeal. Meanwhile, the camp has a full slate of upcoming events, all of which he expects to go on as scheduled.

A spokesperson for Bryan College declined to comment since the dispute is currently an active lawsuit. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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