Utah lawmaker introduces ‘modified’ sex ed bill, hopes for more support

Source: Desert News and KSL

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers will rehash sexual education in public schools, but the bill’s proponents hope a different approach gains more favor this time around.

HB215, introduced Thursday, “is a bill about ensuring our kids are more likely to know about and have the components of what makes a healthy relationship,” said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, who is tackling the issue for a second time.

Eagle Forum director Gayle Ruzicka said Utah’s laws are already good at keeping Utah kids from having sex, as shown in low teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and abortion rates across the state.

“The goal is to make sure they don’t start having sexual intercourse in the first place,” Ruzicka said. “What we’ve been teaching all these years stresses the importance of abstinence before marriage and fidelity after.”

King is proposing that districts make educational information available to parents if and when they want to confidently and comfortably have a discussion about healthy sexual relationships with their children.

And if that doesn’t happen, the bill would give parents the option for the same information — including discussion about various contraceptive methods, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, as well as homosexuality — to be taught to their children in public schools.

The bill also emphasizes teaching Utah kids about consent and communication, the health benefits of abstinence and delaying of sexual behavior, and reducing the frequency of intercourse and the number of sexual partners. It also proposes presenting information on how to recognize and react effectively to situations of sexual violence, which Ruzicka said is already being taught in anti-bullying education.

“Education is the best way to ensure that individuals will make reasonable and intelligent decisions in guiding their lives,” King said. “With most things, we believe that the more knowledge you have, the more likely you’ll act in a responsible way. Why don’t we believe that about this? Why do we believe our kids will be better off if we keep their heads in the sand?”

Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel with Alliance for a Better Utah, which supports King’s legislation, said his parents never addressed sex with him.

“Where are kids going to learn it if not in the schools? We need to help them successfully navigate a world that does have a lot of emphasis on sex these days,” Thomas said.

He said King’s approach is working in other states at reducing public health concerns.

Initial legislation regarding sexual education was passed in Utah in 1988, requiring “medically accurate” discussion and stressing abstinence-only instruction. The law does not allow discussion of intercourse or homosexuality and forbids demonstration of proper condom usage, among other things.

Utah lawmakers voted in favor of an abstinence-only education bill in 2012, allowing schools to drop anything else, but that bill was later vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert, as he believed it restricted parental choice.

King’s 2016 bill, which presented comprehensive sex education in much the same way as HB215 but without parental involvement, was defeated. He said that while he believes it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children, “the reality is that enormous numbers of parents aren’t doing it.”

“Regardless of the ideal, if kids don’t get the information that allows them to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, that’s a problem for us as a bigger society, and it has real significant costs and it has a real significant negative impact on the lives of our kids,” King said, adding that making reproductive health education an option for parents and available at public schools “is a no-brainer.”

Amid lawmaker discussion on the matter last year, UtahPolicy released a poll revealing that 64 percent of Utah voters supported the idea of comprehensive sexual education in schools. Twenty-five percent of people surveyed prefered the abstinence method currently taught in schools.

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King said the results show an “obvious disconnect between Utahns and their legislators,” who have continued to turn down the more progressive and evidence-based methods of instruction.

“Sex makes people crazy,” he said, adding that many Utahns are suspicious of and reluctant to discuss sexual issues in public. He said his bill addresses that by allowing parents to choose whether their kids are exposed to the additional information at school.

Ruzicka said Utah is “already doing the right things.”

“We don’t want them to pass these pieces of legislation that will change our families drastically and change the culture of Utah,” she said.

 

Read the Desert News article here

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