Should parents get sex ed training? Lawmakers not sure

Published October 18, 2012 7:54 am

Education • Legislators discuss merits of idea to help parents have birds-and-bees talk.
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A proposal to create a sex education training program for parents received criticism at its first public hearing Wednesday.

Lawmakers took no action on the proposed bill Wednesday, but they discussed it, with some questioning its merits. The bill would require the state school board to develop a training program for parents who could then use what they learn to teach their kids about sex in the privacy of their own homes. Parents could attend live trainings across the state and/or access an online program to be developed by the State Office of Education.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, who plans to sponsor the measure, said the idea grew out of discussions over HB363 last session, a controversial bill that would have scaled back sex education in schools that the governor ultimately vetoed. He said those discussions made him wonder why more parents aren't teaching sex ed themselves in their homes and are instead relying on schools.

Reid said he learned that many parents simply don't feel comfortable discussing the topic or don't know how to broach it. He said a training program would give parents the confidence to tackle the lessons themselves.

"What's happened is we've turned it over to educators to take that responsibility and teach what is the most intimate topic in the lives of our children," Reid said. "I have a fundamental belief that that should … be taught in the home where as they're teaching human sexuality they're also teaching the values of their family."

Reid said his bill would not change what's now taught to kids in school, and any training would be free and voluntary for parents.

A number of lawmakers, however, both Democrats and Republicans, questioned the need for such a program at the Education Interim Committee meeting Wednesday.

Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, noted that there's already "a tremendous amount of information out there" for parents to learn how to talk to their kids about sex.

"This seems to be, to me, a government solution for a problem that really isn't ours to own," Anderson said. "I think parents that are interested in providing this kind of information to their children, they have resources available to them if they simply will look it up and take the time."

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said it seems contradictory to claim that sex education should be the responsibility of parents and then create a government program to teach them about it. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, said even with information, not all parents will talk to their kids about sex, and she doesn't want to see schools shoulder the additional cost for such a program without more state funding.

Reid said Wednesday he did not yet know how much the program would cost, but he expects its price to be minimal — an assertion Arent said she doubts.

And Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said it "seems like a further expansion of non-academic things that we're asking our school system to do."

But Reid said he believes teachers would appreciate more parents stepping in to teach their kids at home. And he said it's not enough that information is already available on the Internet because some parents don't have Internet access at home. He said live sessions would allow parents to ask questions and discuss the issues.

Some groups typically at odds over sex education appear more supportive of the bill than the committee, although the committee did not hear public comment at its meeting.

Dawn Davies, Utah PTA legislative vice president, said the PTA supports the idea as long as it's funded. The PTA opposed HB363 last session. Davies also said if the program became a reality, she'd like to see resources produced by other groups made available. The PTA, for example, already has a sex ed training program for parents.

"PTA does believe parents are the first educators of their children … this would just be another tool," Davies said.

Gayle Ruzicka, head of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, which supported HB363 last session, has also expressed support for the idea. So has Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, which opposed HB363.

Parent Lisa Cummins, however, with the new conservative PAC Stand for Utah, said she worries that such a program could eventually become mandatory for parents, a move she'd oppose.

Reid said he plans to officially run the bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lschencker —