Committee Approves Parent Consent Bill for Sex Education in Utah

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Although sex education is currently voluntary in the state of Utah, a new bill would require parents to give their consent before students could participate in the class.

House Bill 447, written by Representative Brad Dee, would not change the curriculum of the courses offered.  It would simply require parental permission prior to students learning about any topic pertaining to human sexuality, including reproduction, childbirth, marriage, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

Although the state school board currently holds a policy of asking students to opt into the classes in question, State Superintendent Brad Smith said HB447 would make that policy a law.

“We believe parents should have the ability to control, particularly on sensitive topics, their children’s participation,” he said.

However, some committee members have voiced concerns over whether the introduction of a new law would even be needed, as schools across the state are already complying with the policy set by the school board, writes Benjamin Wood for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Representative Carol Moss said the addition of the new bill would be “redundant,” as there are currently no reports of issues concerning the policy from parents or educators.  “I just don’t see the point in it,” she said.

In addition, Marina Lowe, who is an attorney for the ACLU of Utah, expressed her concerns that the broad language included in the bill could prove to pit the definition of human sexuality provided at odds with instruction given in other academic subjects.  For example, the bill could be interpreted to mean that parental consent is needed before a class reads a book like “The Scarlett Letter,” or a biology class begins the anatomy section.  “I think this broadened definition is problematic,” she said.

However, Dee defended the bill, saying it only pertains to sex education and that the wording in the bill is specific enough that it would not become an issue for other school subjects to become involved in.

“This is not dealing with literature or reading a book or teaching English or talking about instructional material,” he said.

The committee voted along party lines on the bill when approving it.  It is now headed to the full House for consideration.

An additional bill is also being considered that would allow parents to opt their children out of standardized testing.  The bill would also clarify legislation that had been previously passed, allowing parents to excuse them from school.  The new bill would allow parents to keep their children from “any summitive, interim or formative test that is not locally developed, “in addition to all federally or state-mandated testing.”

Students in the state are allowed out of school for family or medical reasons as long as parents let the school know one full school day in advance and the student makes up any missed work.

While the bill is meant to bring some clarity to the subject of parental rights concerning the education of their children, some lawmakers worry that it will encourage parents to opt their children out of testing, writes Morgan Jacobsen for Deseret News.

“As certain groups mobilize and encourage parents to opt their kids out of the standardized tests, it’s going to skew the results of the school,” said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City.