Kentucky lawmakers disagree with education guidelines for SB150

Word choice in a new law is causing disagreements between lawmakers and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 7:27 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Word choice in a new law is causing disagreements between lawmakers and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

The dispute is about Senate Bill 150 and two words: “or” versus “and.”

In the 2023 legislative session, Senator Max Wise introduced Senate Bill 150, which he said was intended to give parents power over their child’s education concerning topics of sexual orientation, gender identity and STIs.

On Monday, the Kentucky Department of Education released guidelines explaining how districts should follow the new law.

That’s where the arguments began. In the section talking about what kids can learn in schools, SB150 uses the word “or” not “and.” The highly disputed law states that students in fifth grade and younger can’t learn about human sexuality or STIs.

The law goes on to say, “OR any student, regardless of the grade level, should not learn about gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.”

In the newly released guidelines, KDE said this means school districts have options, but Senator Wise disagrees with their interpretation.

Senator Max Wise expressed his disdain with the guidelines in a statement, saying:

“It is clear the legislature meant, in Section 2(1)(d) of SB 150, that schools shall not have classes in human sexuality in grades five and below, or study gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation at any grade level.”

Kentucky courts previously ruled that “an interpretation [of a statute] which will lead to an absurd result will be avoided,” and “when necessary to carry out the obvious intention of the Legislature, disjunctive words can be construed as conjunctive, and vice versa.” Chilton v. Gividen, 246 S.W.2d 133, 135 (Ky.1952).

Obviously, the legislature would not pose these two requirements, which protect children and protect parental rights, as a binary choice for school systems to select to enforce.

The Kentucky General Assembly continuously strives to refocus education solely on academics and provide necessary protections for our teachers, parents and students.

Lawmakers believe KDE is sliding by state law with their new guidance. The Kentucky Department of Education says they’re just reading what the law says. KDE released a statement about the verbiage discrepancy, saying:

On Monday, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) released updated non-regulatory guidance for the bills passed during the 2023 legislative session that contained an emergency clause, this included additional information on Senate Bill 150.

The updated guidance was designed to provide additional clarity to school districts regarding the policies and parental notice required by Section 2 of SB 150. This updated guidance followed requests from school districts for additional guidance and technical assistance concerning SB 150.

As the state education agency, KDE is charged with providing guidance and technical assistance to school districts on all educational laws and programs. The guidance produced by KDE gives administrators and educators information to consider when a district is devising its own policy, but this is guidance only.

The Kentucky General Assembly chose to use the conjunction “or” not “and.” When it comes to state law, words have meaning and KDE simply read the words adopted by the General Assembly.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Polio explained the KDE is who guides school districts with new laws.

“Policy is driven by our board of education,” Polio said. “I make recommendations to them, but we also have a policy committee who will be dealing with SB150 and how we create policy from what KDE gives us. Our main goal is to support kids. That’s what we want to do. We need to support students, and we also need to support staff to make sure we follow the law. Once again, the guiding agency we follow is the Kentucky Department of Education.”

JCPS superintendent Dr. Polio hasn’t revealed the district plans on how they’ll comply with SB150.

To read the full law, click or tap here.

To see KY Dept. of Education guidelines, click or tap here.