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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan September 11, 2008

An absurd claim about a bill that never passed

(Published Sept. 11, 2008)

John McCain released an ad this week making the accusation that Barack Obama supports sex education for five-year-olds.

Here's what the ad says:

" Education Week says Obama 'hasn't made a significant mark on education,' that he's 'elusive' on accountability, a 'staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly.'

"Obama's one accomplishment? Legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergartners.

"Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family."

Here, we'll check the claim that Obama wants five-year-olds to learn about sex. We've checked what Education Week said in a separate item and found it Barely True .

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The origins of this claim go back to Obama's days as a state senator in the Illinois General Assembly.

In 2003, the Assembly considered a bill to expand sex education directives from grades 6 through 12 to grades K through 12. The legislation required the curriculum to be medically accurate and include information on the prevention of HIV and contraceptives. It also said abstinence must be taught and that students "shall be encouraged to base their actions on reasoning, self-discipline, sense of responsibility, self-control, and ethical considerations, such as respect for oneself and others."

Most pertinent to the kindergarten allegation, the legislation states that "course material and instruction shall be age and developmentally appropriate."

Carol Ronen, the now-retired state senator who sponsored the bill, said its main intent was to make sure that teenagers got information that was "medically accurate," a requirement that wasn't then part of the school code. A secondary effect was to expand age-appropriate sex education down to lower grades, to allow things like teaching school children to avoid sex predators, Ronen said.

"Barack never had anything to do with it," she said. "This is a lot of hoopla."

Obama voted for the legislation in committee on a party-line vote. He was not a sponsor nor a co-sponsor, and the legislation never made it to a full Senate vote. So calling it one of his accomplishments is wrong, since it never became law and it wasn't his bill anyway.

This isn't the first time Obama has faced the "sex ed for kindergartners" charge. When Obama ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, his opponent Alan Keyes used it. "Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it," Obama said at a campaign event in 2004. "If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case-by-case basis by local communities and local school boards."

Obama said that he did not support telling youngsters about explicit information about sex. The bill specifically mentions that instructional material must be age appropriate. It specifically mentions teaching children how to "say no to unwanted sexual advances" and "nonconsensual physical sexual contact." The legislation was not sponsored by Obama and it didn't pass, so calling it one of his "accomplishments" is absurd. We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Illinois General Assembly, Full text of SB 0099 , introduced Jan. 29, 2003.

Obama clarifies sex ed views at Benedictine, "Chicago Daily Herald," Oct. 6, 2004, accessed via Nexis.

The Associated Press, "Senate debate heats up," Oct. 22, 2004, accessed via Nexis.

Interview with Carol Ronen, former Illinois state senator.





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