Colorado’s Sex Education Snapshot
Advocates have worked diligently to advance sex education in Colorado over the past seven years, most recently cumulating in the monumental passage of House Bill 1032. Sponsored by Representative Susan Lontine, House Bill 1032 requires sex education, if offered, to be comprehensive, prohibits emphasizing abstinence as the primary acceptable preventive method, and prevents instruction from using stigmatizing or shame-based language. The legislation provides funding opportunities to rural and low-income schools to support the implementation of comprehensive sex education, an important provision considering that the federal government has yet to provide funding for comprehensive sex education nationwide.
The passage of House Bill 1032 came six years after a revision of the previous sex education statute that updated the 2007 law to ensure that curriculum is age-appropriate, medically accurate, and culturally sensitive to young people of color, LGBT youth, young people with disabilities, and young people who have experienced sexual assault.
At least seven school districts have already begun the process of reviewing and improving their curriculum to comply with the new regulations and are expecting to implement new curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year. In addition to this revised regulation, organizations such as the Colorado Sexual Health Initiative provide comprehensive sex education programming and have grants available to support counties in developing such programs. Advancements have also been made outside of curriculum requirements, such as with Senate Bill 21-016, introduced by Senator Brittany Pettersen and enacted on July 6, 2021. This bill expands young people’s access to health care by permitting minors to consent to the prescription of medication to treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Since Colorado schools are not required to provide sex education to students, school districts are left to decide if they will provide youth with comprehensive sex education. Mandating local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive. Prior to the passage of House Bill 1032, students reported receiving abstinence-only instruction that utilized shame-based tactics, including equating students who have had sex to pieces of tape that have lost their stickiness. Other students reported that curriculum failed to include instruction on consent.
While state statute mandates all schools comply with the new requirements, some schools, including the Liberty Common School in Fort Collins, have applied for a waiver to avoid implementing the new, comprehensive instruction. If successful, schools who are permitted to waive the new requirements may continue teaching abstinence-based curriculum that fails to provide young people with a comprehensive approach to ensuring their own reproductive and sexual health and well-being.
Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education. After contacting their local school board, advocates can determine if young people are receiving sex education and, if so, ensure that it complies with the new mandated requirements. They can then vocalize the important need for advancing sex education requirements in their community by complying with the new state mandates. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for increased funding to support schools in implementing comprehensive sex education. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts.
State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance
- Colorado schools are not required to teach sex education.
- If sex education is offered, curriculum must be comprehensive.
- If sex education is offered, curriculum must “not emphasize sexual abstinence as the primary or sole acceptable preventative method available to students.”
- If sex education is offered, curriculum must not exclude the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals.
- If sex education is offered, curriculum must include instruction on consent.
- Parents or guardians can remove their children from sex education instruction with written notification. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
- If sex education is offered,, curriculum must be medically accurate.
State House Highlights
This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2020 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2021. These proposed billsprovide a brief overview of both recent and current legislative action taken to advance or restrict sex education. For a more comprehensive look at relevant legislation concerning sex education and related topics such as reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights, and HIV/AIDS, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Colorado’s profile.
2021 Legislative Session
No legislation has been introduced concerning sex education to date.
2020 Legislative Session
House Bill 1144 (failed): Sought to establish a “Parents Bill of Rights” that permits parents to remove their children from instruction they believe is harmful based on the belief that the material questions beliefs in sex, morality, or religion. The bill also permits parents to remove their children from any extracurricular clubs and activities, be exempt from any immunization law of Colorado, opt out of any data collection, and prohibits any entity or individual from performing surgeries, physical exams, or prescribe medication prior to obtaining parental consent.
Senate Bill 72 (failed): Sought to require schools that offer comprehensive sex education to provide parents and guardians notice of sex education curriculum that will be taught 90 days prior to delivering the planned curriculum.
More on sex ed in Colorado…
Colorado state law does not require schools to provide sex or HIV instruction; however, it refers to “medically and scientifically accurate information” as a “right” of youth in Colorado statute §22-1-128. Statute mandates that all school districts that offer human sexuality instruction must provide comprehensive sex education. Curricula must include medically accurate, culturally sensitive information about methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and must include information about abstinence, all FDA approved forms of contraception, and be taught in a “cohesive, integrated, objective manner” so that youth are empowered to make decisions based on their “individual needs, beliefs, and values.”
Additional requirements state that the instruction must promote the development of healthy relationships through providing instruction on:
- How to communicate consent, recognize the withdrawal of consent, and understand the age of consent
- How to avoid making unwanted sexual advances or assuming a person’s supposed sexual intentions based on a person’s appearance or sexual history
- Age appropriate information on “Safe Haven Laws” relating to the safe abandonment of newborn children
- All pregnancy outcomes, including abortion, if the school district opts to provide instruction on pregnancy outcome options
In addition, sex education instruction must not:
- Explicitly or implicitly teach or endorse religious ideology
- Use shame-based or stigmatizing language or instructional tools
- Emphasize abstinence as the primary or sole preventative method
- Rely on gender stereotypes
- Exclude the health needs of intersex individuals or LGBT individuals
Parents or guardians must be notified if a sex education course is taught, and they must be given an opportunity to review the curriculum. They may remove their children from sex education or STI/HIV education classes by sending written notice to the school. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
Per Colorado statute §22-25-104, the Colorado Department of Education is responsible for providing guidelines as to the length of courses, the subjects included, and the manner in which these subjects are addressed.
In 2013, the state legislature established a grant program for comprehensive human sex education, via Colorado statute §25-44-102. Schools that accept this funding must use curricula that are age appropriate, culturally relevant, medically accurate, and are based in science. In 2019, the state legislature amended the statute to ensure that the grant program’s oversight entity is made up of a diverse population of community members. The amendment also instructed that rural public schools and schools that do not currently offer comprehensive sex education take priority during the grant recipient selection process.
The Department of Education provides guidelines on curriculum development through the Colorado Academic Standards: Comprehensive Health Standards. Sexual health topics—including HIV and other STD transmission and prevention, unintended pregnancy, abstinence, and sexual assault—are components of these standards.
State Legislative Activity
State legislative activity related to sex education does not take place in isolation from the broader embroiled political and policy climate. Attacks on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, and efforts to limit access to abortion care and other reproductive health care services prevent students from receiving comprehensive sex education and accessing sexual and reproductive health care services. Below are highlights of current legislative activity related to these topics. The 2020 session convened on January 4, 2020 and the 2019 session adjourned on May 3, 2019.
|Women's Rights In Athletics (House Bill 1098)||Targets transgender student athletes and restricts their participation on sports teams aligned with their gender identity||Dead (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2023A/bills/2023a_1098_01.pdf|
Youth Sexual Health Data
Young people are more than their health behaviors and outcomes. While data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the sex education and sexual health care needs of young people, it is important to be mindful that these behaviors and outcomes are impacted by systemic inequities present in our society that affect an individual’s sexual health and well-being. To learn more about Colorado’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.
Colorado School Health Profiles Data
In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the School Health Profiles, which measure school health policies and practices and highlight which health topics were taught in schools across the country. Since the data were collected from self-administered questionnaires completed by schools’ principals and lead health education teachers, the CDC notes that one limitation of the School Health Profiles is bias toward the reporting of more positive policies and practices. In the School Health Profiles, the CDC identifies 20 sexual health education topics as critical for ensuring a young person’s sexual health. Colorado did not participate in the 2016 or 2018 survey.
(Visit the CDC’s School Health Profiles report for additional information on school health policies and practices.)
***The quality of sex education taught often reflects funding available for sex education programs. To learn more about federal funding streams, click here.Back to the SIECUS State Profiles