Debate continues over Utah sex ed changes

Published August 26, 2009 9:37 pm
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Educators, students and parents continued to debate Wednesday whether youth should learn more about contraception in school, at the latest meeting exploring a proposed change to Utah's sex education law.

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, presented a draft of his bill, which would require school districts to offer two tracks of sex education: one that would teach abstinence only and another where teachers would still promote abstinence but also include information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and contraceptives. Parental permission would be required for students to take the second track.

"I want to be sure parents can be certain if they want abstinence only education, their children can get that," Hemingway told the crowd. "I also want to be certain that if parents want to get a little more detail in their children's education, they can do that."

Hemingway called the proposed change "a health issue," given rising numbers of STDs and teen pregnancy in Utah.

The meeting, which was hosted by the Planned Parenthood Action Council at the Murray Library, attracted a crowd of about 30.

Many at the meeting, such as Mary Ann Kirk with the Murray PTA, said current law works well and a new one is not needed. Teachers are now allowed to teach about contraceptives and STDs, among other topics. Districts may teach less than what the law allows, but not more.

Maryann Christensen, a mother and member of the Utah Eagle Forum, said comprehensive sex education doesn't belong in schools.

"I think the best kind of sex education happens with parents who teach moral values along with mechanics," Christensen said. "Everyone has a different set of moral values."

Hemingway agreed that parents should be involved, but he said the current law is falling short.

Though teachers are allowed to talk about contraceptives, they're not allowed to encourage their use, leading many to avoid the topic out of fear of accidentally crossing the line, Hemingway said.

Many students and recent graduates at the meeting said they didn't learn about contraceptives in school.

"I feel if the option for contraceptive classes had been offered in high school, less of my friends would have become pregnant," said Celia Coughlin, who graduated from Woods Cross High School in 2004.

Several lawmakers and David Sundwall, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, attended the meeting, but they declined to pass judgment on the bill just yet. Hemingway plans to formally present his bill to lawmakers after more community discussions and revisions. He presented an early version to lawmakers in June and received mixed reaction.

Get involved

Future community meetings hosted by the Planned Parenthood Action Council to discuss the proposed bill will be held:

-- Sept. 23, 72 N. Main St. in Garland at 6 p.m.

-- Oct. 19, 2880 W. 3650 S. in West Valley City at 6 p.m.

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