Hinson vows better communication after sex ed poster controversy

SHAWNEE, Kan. - A controversy over the use of a poster in sexual education classes in a suburban school district has led to a review not just of the classroom material, but of how the district communicates with parents, the superintendent said Tuesday.

Jim Hinson, who announced the suspension of the classroom material in a letter to parents nearly two weeks ago, said he's looking at how the district informs parents about sensitive curriculum topics and about their freedom to opt their children out of such instruction.

"The most important thing for us is parent access, parental access to the information in advance," Hinson said.

He said his review would look not just at the language on the poster, part of a supplement on abstinence education, but at how the district communicates with parents.

A publicly-posted health curriculum for the 7th grade, for example, makes no mention of the sexual nature of the course materials. Hinson said information was available on a website section only visible to parents.

"Where does our responsibility fall to say we need to call you, we need to email you, we need to mail it to you, we need to post it on the site," Hinson asked rhetorically of the questions the review will encompass.

"The other part of the review really is the appropriateness of the materials for this specific age level of students," he said.

Hinson said he had received dozens of calls and emails from both sides of what he called an "emotional" issue for parents. Many of those have come from out of state, as national media outlets have picked up the story.

Now, Kansas legislators are getting involved. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Kansas state senator, announced she would soon be filing legislation to require parents to sign permission slips before students could take sex ed classes.

Hinson points out Shawnee Mission already allows parents to opt out such instruction and opposes intrusion from Topeka.

"Local control is always better," Hinson said. "When you're trying to make rules for the entire state it's going to vary from one community to the next."

Pilcher-Cook did not return multiple requests for comment on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the New York-based agency that produced the poster as part of its "Making A Difference," abstinence-focused supplement, told 41 Action News it has been used in 75 school districts nationwide, with no similar controversies brought to their attention.

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