Despite concerns and criticism from State School Board Superintendent Martell Menlove, Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, had his bill to develop sex-education programming for parents clear one of its first legislative hurdles Monday.
Senate Bill 39 would have the Utah State Office of Education develop a website based on the state’s existing sex-education curriculum that parents could use to teach the material to their children in the privacy of their home, or supplement sex-ed training their child receives in a classroom setting. For those without access to a computer, a pamphlet version of the material would be made available.
Reid’s motivation for the bill, he said, was born out of the controversy over a bill in the 2012 Legislature that would have restricted educators’ ability to discuss topics like contraception during public-health discussions.
“I really thought it was the wrong discussion,” Reid told the Senate Education Committee Monday. “The first responsibility is with the parents, to get them to have a conversation with their children.” To that end, Reid’s bill would use existing curriculum to give parents a resource to facilitate that discussion. It was a proposition that enjoyed wide support, from high school students in attendance to Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka.
“The important question for us today is who is responsible for the sex education of Utah children?” asked Rachel Sybrowsky, a 17-year-old member of the Timpview High School debate team. She argued that the bill would help bridge the roles of sex educator between parents and the schools. “SB 39 allows government to better support parents in their role as teachers of health issues that impact their own children.” Ruzicka championed the bill for allowing parents to get better involved and at the least see what information the schools would teach their children as part of their sex-education programming.
But the bill hit an obstacle after State School Board Superintendent Martell Menlove raised concerns about the bill trying to do too much with one website. He argued that different students of different ages and backgrounds would need different programming, and that Reid’s bill would only create one catch-all site that might offer information inappropriate for some students.
“One curriculum accessible for all creates some real problems for me,” Menlove testified. He also pointed out that a more sophisticated website with different materials would require password restrictions, and that the bill’s fiscal note did not calculate the cost of such a design. Currently, the fiscal note indicates no measurable taxpayer cost for implementing the bill.
Reid, however, countered to Menlove that this bill was meant to be a modest start that could be improved in future sessions if parents and educators felt it was a move in the right direction.
Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, also defended the bill, pointing out that there are already “infinite sex-ed sites on the Internet -- some good, some bad. “But, what you’re talking about is something that will be tied to the curriculum, tied to what we’re teaching in our schools,” Urquhart said.
The committee ultimately agreed and passed SB39 out with a favorable recommendation by a 4-2 vote.
To contact Sen. Reid about his bill, click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill, click here. To read SB39, click here. For more updates from the Hill, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.