June 18, 2009
At a legislative meeting held Wednesday, supporters and opponents debated comprehensive sex education.
Rep. Lynn Hemingway (D-Holladay) is drafting a measure, modeled after a bill now before legislators in North Carolina, that would require Utah schools to offer two sex education tracks: one that is abstinence-only, and one that promotes abstinence but also addresses STDs and contraceptives. Parental permission would be required for teens to take the second track.
Some maintain that the current state law promoting abstinence-based education, which allows, but does not require, schools to teach about contraceptives and STDs, is sufficient. Teachers can discuss contraception but must not encourage its use, a fine distinction that leads some educators to avoid the topic altogether for fear of violating the law. Parents can currently opt their children out of sex education.
Lawmakers should provide "guidance and support for parents as opposed to trying to take the role of the parent in the classroom setting," said Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove (R-Garland). Liz Zentner, state PTA health commissioner, agreed. Students should learn about concepts such as contraception at home where they can receive moral instruction on the matter, she said.
"This isn't a moral issue anymore," Hemingway said, presenting data on teenage pregnancy and rising chlamydia cases in Utah. "This is a health issue."
Parent Tanya Smith, who attended the meeting with her husband and 16-year-old daughter, supports a broader approach to sex education. "I'm not an expert on STDs or contraceptives, and I would appreciate if there was a health educator knowledgeable about the most accurate methods and statistics," she said.