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Legislature passes bill to let schools drop sex education

Senators who supported HB363 say it’s not the school’s job to teach sex education; bill now goes to governor.

First Published Mar 06 2012 05:24 pm • Last Updated Mar 07 2012 09:28 am

The Legislature gave final passage Tuesday to a bill that would let schools skip teaching sex education and prohibit instruction in the use of contraception.

Senate debate over HB363 was relatively short Tuesday afternoon before senators passed it 19-10. In the end, many senators felt schools shouldn’t teach the subject.

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"To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded," said Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

A number of lawmakers, all Democrats, rose to speak against the bill Tuesday and ask questions. But Senate bill sponsor Sen. Margaret Datyon, R-Orem, refused to answer questions about the bill, saying "I think everybody basically knows where they are on this issue. Obviously, the senators may speak, but I don’t know that it’s going to be beneficial for me to try to debate or answer questions."

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said lawmakers often talk about wanting to keep government out of people’s lives, yet she said the bill would take away parental choice.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, called the bill "a mandate against reality," as parents already have the option of keeping their kids out of sex ed. Relatively few parents make that choice.

Now, parents must opt their children into sex education classes if they want them to participate, and districts may already choose to teach abstinence only. Under the bill, however, districts may choose not to teach the topic at all, or, if they do teach it, they must teach abstinence only.

"It’s concerning when now we’re trying to dictate morality," Robles said.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said lawmakers must understand that not all kids will learn about the topic if it isn’t taught at school.

"We’ve been discussing this as if every child has the benefit of two loving and caring parents who are ready to have a conversation about appropriate sexual activity, and I’m here to tell you that’s just not the case," Romero said.

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In fact, at one point, Romero attempted to amend the bill so as not to prohibit the advocacy of homosexuality, while still barring the advocacy of or instruction in the use of contraceptives, intricacies of intercourse and sexual activity outside of marriage. His amendment also, however, would have prohibited instruction from including personal opinions or expressions of moral belief. He said he felt it was important teachers be allowed to give gay teens information and support without worrying that they may be breaking the law. He said he believes the current language is unconstitutional based on case law.

Lawmakers, however, rejected that suggestion.

Many said they just don’t feel it’s a school’s place to discuss such topics.

"I recognize that some parents do not take the opportunity to teach in their own homes, but we as a society should not be teaching or advocating homosexuality or sex outside marriage or different forms of contraceptives for premarital sex," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, said, "Something is amiss when we have to send our kids to school where they want to teach morals and sexuality

and then the school sends them back home so the parents can teach them how to read."

Liz Zentner, Utah PTA president-elect, said after the vote she was "totally shocked." The Utah PTA opposed the bill.

"I just can’t believe they did this," Zentner said. "I think they’re going to have to revisit it in a couple years when the teen pregnancy rates and teen [sexually transmitted disease] rates shoot through the roof."

Others, however, were pleased at the outcome of the vote Tuesday.

"I think that our children are so important and we cannot afford to tell them anything but the truth…and the truth is the only way to protect yourself physically and emotionally is to abstain from sex until you are married and to be faithful in a relationship," said Dalane England, Utah Eagle Forum vice president of issues. "When you have the truth and the whole truth you don’t need anything else."

Dayton said it was important to pass the bill to make sure the State Office of Education could no longer endorse Planned Parenthood material or websites. The state school board actually pulled its approval of a Planned Parenthood presentation last year, but that material was for maturation programs for fifth and sixth-graders about puberty, not sex education. Maturation programs do not need the state board’s approval in order for Utah schools to use them.

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