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S.L.'s school board leery of new sex-education rules

Current system works just fine, Robles tells board

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The Salt Lake City Board of Education fears new state sex education rules could cost the district too much time and money in teacher training and that they were approved without enough input from superintendents.

"They're dictating our priorities" on time and resources, Superintendent Darline Robles said in a board meeting last week, adding the district's current system works just fine.

President Kathy Black suggested the board write the State Board of Education to complain that the rule is an unfunded mandate and ask the state board to revisit the rule. But the local board instead will wait and see where other districts stand. Robles said she planned to bring the issue up at a superintendents meeting this week.

While the questions need to be asked, they seem to point more to confusion over who is supposed to be doing what under the new rules.

"Obviously, we need some clarification," said Salt Lake board member Karen Derrick, who believes the new rule could affect all teachers, not just health instructors, and their curriculum. "There seems to be some confusion on what (the state board) intended."

But state health curriculum specialist Margaret Rose believes questions will be resolved as state-sponsored teacher training begins in the fall.

"They're probably feeling there's more gray area than there is," Rose said Wednesday. "I think once we're out there and training is done with teachers and district folks, maybe they'll have a better understanding about what's going on."

School districts statewide are being asked to bring their policies in line with the state board's rule, mandated by Gov. Mike Leavitt last spring when he vetoed Rep. Bill Wright's "abstinence-only" bill.

The Elberta Republican's HB411 would have allowed only abstinence, fidelity in marriage and the illegality of fornication to be taught in sex ed classes. It 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 come up with rules to handle several issues, including regular teacher training on sex education guidelines and complaint tracking. A standard parental consent form also 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, and the state will sponsor training for them, Rose said. Districts could train other teachers at their own expense.

That is what bothers the Salt Lake board. It is under the impression all teachers need training under the new rule.

"I feel this is really going to cost districts either in real dollars or time," Black said. "They should have asked superintendents about administering this and how it would . . . impact teachers' time and even their curriculum." She worried whether teachers would eliminate parts of their lesson plans instead of hassling with consent forms.

By contrast, Granite school board president Lynn Davidson assumes only health educators would have to receive mandatory training.

"My assumption is (training would be required only for) lifestyle curriculum teachers, but I don't know that for sure. I'm sure that as we benefit from the training of the healthy lifestyles curriculum, we'll add some of the important points of that to the training of all teachers," Davidson said.

Jordan district and its school board president believe its schools fall outside the new rule. Jordan schools already have an abstinence-only sex ed curriculum and keep health, biology, psychology, family and consumer sciences and physiology teachers up to speed on it. They will, however, send the state's new permission slip home for those courses.

Davis School District hasn't studied the rule yet. The training issue also hasn't surfaced in Murray's ongoing board discussions.

The state superintendent's office has received no complaints on the rule.

But Kim Burningham, state school board vice chairman, said the question of teacher time and district training resources is worth asking.

"I think training, bottom line, is a very good thing. Anytime you do training, it costs money, however," he said. "I think the Salt Lake School Board is asking a question that has to be asked."

Contributing: Maria Titze