Legislators who were adamant about changing sex education in schools are now applauding a compromise of sorts struck with the state school board.
The legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee this week discussed the school board's new sex education rule, which requires written parental permission before students can learn about contraceptives or human reproduction-related health issues. Some on the panel had a few concerns, but no one suggested changing anything beyond semantics.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, committee co-chairman, praised the rule for preserving children's innocence while providing medical knowledge to those who may be sexually active. "(The board has) done a good job at trying to give an adequate education while at the same time respecting the rights of parents."
Last February, Rep. Bill Wright, R-Elberta, sought to allow only abstinence, fidelity in marriage and the illegality of fornication to be taught as part of human sexuality. HB411 sought to outlaw discussion of contraceptives or other methods to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.
Gov. Mike Leavitt vetoed the bill but directed the state school board to draft rules addressing several issues, including complaint tracking and teacher training.
The State Board of Education has approved the new rule and a standardized consent form, translated into Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Tongan, Laotian, Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian. A Samoan version soon will be available.
The form must be distributed at least two weeks before lessons on reproductive anatomy and health, human reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, HIV/AIDS and information on self-exams. Such topics could come up for counselors, health and health occupations instructors and science teachers, who will receive training.
"The state office did a very good job," Wright said of the rule.
But he wanted to ensure permission slips will be kept on file, that rule-breakers will be disciplined, and talk about contraceptives won't turn into advocacy.
"There is a group promoting (contraceptives) and would take advantage of anyone to market their product," Wright said. "There is no place for this in our public schools. We need to stand up and defend what we are going to teach and not use our public schools to market any kind of product."
Wright also doesn't want teachers to respond to spontaneous student questions to open the door to illegal discussions about sex.
The State Office of Education agreed to look at some language for clarity and consistency with current law, which addresses many of Wright's concerns.
The law requires human sexuality instruction to stress the importance of abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward. The new rule also refers willful violators to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission, which handles teacher disciplinary matters.
"Teachers are responsible for providing medically accurate information, not to be an advocate . . . for contraceptive devices," said Carol Lear, school law specialist for the State Office of Education. She also stressed the rule prohibits demonstrating contraceptive use.
Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Millcreek, praised state efforts and noted decreases in teen birthrates.
"If what schools have been doing is working, or (lessons taught) in our own homes . . . let's keep doing what we're doing and do it better."