A bill that results in further restrictions on sexual education for Alaskan public schools has officially become law in the state.
Governor Bill Walker was faced with a deadline — he could either sign, veto or ignore the bill. If he left House Bill 156 unsigned, it would become law. After receiving opinions from both supporters and critics on the topic, he chose to allow the bill to stand:
"This was a very close call for me," Walker said in a statement. "I received a lot of input on this legislation—from both sides. Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature."
The bill will require teachers of sexual education in the state to either hold a valid teaching certificate and work within the school, or to teach the subject under the supervision of a certified teacher at the school. In addition, all materials used in the class must be reviewed and approved by a school board and the materials must be made available for review by parents, writes Matt Buxton for NewsMiner.
Any "class or program in sex education, human reproduction education, or human sexuality education" will be included under the new law.
Senator Mike Dunleavy has pushed for increased restrictions on sexual education programs in the state for quite some time. Prior to including the measure within House Bill 156, he had proposed a must more restrictive Senate Bill 89 which would have banned organizations that offer abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood, from offering sex-ed courses in schools. That bill never made it past the House.
Dunleavy has referred to the issue as one of parental rights, which he reiterated on his Facebook page late last week:
"You put the rights of parents and children, as well as the needs of schools, ahead of special interest groups that want to take away our rights and control our public schools," he wrote. "This bill goes along way in reiterating the inherent rights of parents."
The bill faced opposition from educators and legislators, only passing by a small margin after numerous failed attempts. Those who opposed the bill argued that it would increase the barriers in place between students and the information necessary for safe decisions about sex to be made.
In addition, some shared concerns that the restrictions placed by the bill would more strongly effect schools in rural areas, which depend more on volunteer educators to teach the course.
"This is a politically driven attempt to control curriculum in our schools," said school board Vice President Michael O'Brien. "The fact that this is now being called a bill about curriculum control is a bait-and-switch, and is not something that anyone should be over-joyed about."
Meanwhile, bill supporters said critics misunderstand the intentions of the bill. Walker said the provisions were meant to instill parental involvement help to start conversations between parents and their children.
Other measures are also included in the bill, including the repeal of a provision that required 70% of state funding to be used within the classroom. Doing so lessens the hardship faced by rural districts where operating costs are typically higher. In addition, a two-year statewide hold will be placed on state testing while a replacement is sought out for the standardized test used throughout the state.