Freedom Foundation’s latest sex ed attack contains false and disputed claims

Fourteen schools are using a state-provided curriculum at the heart of an ongoing controversy over sex education in Idaho.

The state Department of Health and Welfare confirmed numbers in a recent Idaho Freedom Foundation post on “Reducing the Risk.” But the department disputed many of the hardline conservative group’s claims — and said the curriculum focuses on abstinence.

“(RTR) is about preventing unplanned pregnancy and STDs,” Health and Welfare said in a statement to Idaho Education News. “The goal of RTR is to help students learn how to stay safe and on track with their life goals by not getting STDs or having an unplanned pregnancy.”

The controversy over Reducing the Risk began in September, when the Freedom Foundation said Health and Welfare “implements” a sex ed curriculum that promotes “porn literacy.” Numerous news accounts refuted the foundation’s “porn literacy” claims.

No state agency can implement curriculum, on sex education or any other subject. School districts and charters make those decisions locally. And in its own article decrying Reducing the Risk, the Freedom Foundation seemed to concede as much — undermining its own claim of a state-implemented curriculum. “No one can say how many school districts in Idaho have adopted this curriculum.”

On Monday, the Freedom Foundation posted a followup article, based on a public records request. “Planned Parenthood-endorsed sex ed is in these 14 public schools,” its headline reads.

Idaho Education News filed its own public records request, in an attempt to verify the foundation’s claims.

Health and Welfare confirmed the Freedom Foundation’s list of 14 schools using Reducing the Risk: Challis-Junior Senior High School; Cornerstone High School, Hazelton; Filer High School; Hansen High School; Moscow Middle School; Mount Harrison Junior-Senior High School, Heyburn; Mountain View Alternative High School, Rathdrum; Potlatch Junior-Senior High School; Ririe Junior High School; Ririe Senior High School; Shoshone-Bannock Junior-Senior High School, Fort Hall; Union High School, Nampa; Vallivue Academy, Caldwell; Wendell High School.

Most of the 14 schools are rural, or smaller alternative high schools, with low overall enrollment.

Health and Welfare confirmed that 525 students have taken the Reducing the Risk curriculum so far this school year. This represents a small fraction of the 124,000 eighth- through 12th-grade students in Idaho schools.

In all, 780 students took the curriculum over the course of the 2021-22 school year — up from 588 students in 2015-16.

“The (Department of Health and Welfare) has been growing its program for seven years, serving more students each time,” Boise State University professor Scott Yenor and Idaho Freedom Foundation education policy director Anna Miller wrote on the foundation’s Monday article. “Shutting off the federal spigot keeping these programs alive should be the Legislature’s first step toward reform.”

The article contains several false or disputed claims:

  • Yenor and Miller assert that students can be placed in the curriculum “without parental notification or consent” — but state law allows parents to opt their children out of “any planned instruction in sex education.”
  • Yenor and Miller say children as young as 12 are taking the Reducing the Risk curriculum, even though it is geared to high school students. On Wednesday, Health and Welfare said it was unaware of any 12-year-olds in the classes — and said the three middle schools and junior high schools offering Reducing the Risk requested the curriculum “because they consider their students high risk.”
  • The article also claims the curriculum promotes abortion, sexual fantasy, oral and anal sex and the use of sex toys. Health and Welfare says the Freedom Foundation is citing sections of the curriculum’s teacher guide — material that is not shared with students, and is designed to help teachers prepare for questions they might be asked in class.
Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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