Governor Gary Herbert vetoes controversial sex education bill HB363

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ruzicka and the Eagle Forum lobbied aggressively in support of the bill and she said that she did not expect lawmakers to attempt to overrule the veto. "Everyone is tired of it," she said, noting the Eagle Forum will now focus on educating parents on what their children are really being presented in the classroom.

In addition to the feedback from the public, many groups had issued statements urging the governor to veto the bill. Liz Zentner, President-elect of the Utah PTA said she was grateful for Herbert's decision. She called it difficult, but courageous, and said she was impressed with Utah parents who went from a silent to a loud majority.

"The majority of parents want their students to have this information," she said.

Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, who sponsored the bill, could not be reached Friday but has said that in addition to reasserting the role of parents in the education of their children, he was motivated by what he perceived as inappropriate material being presented in schools. Specifically, he mentioned material developed by Planned Parenthood and links on the Utah State Office of Education website that directed users to Planned Parenthood content.

Representatives from both organizations said that collaboration ended last year. But the sentiment gained momentum in the Legislature and helped push its passage.

The bill drew condemnation from thousands who voiced their opinions through social media and in calls to the governor's office, fearing the bill could keep potentially life-saving information from students who might not receive it otherwise. Others supported the bill that attempted to put the focus of sex education into the home.

Sen. Margaret Dayton the bill's Senate sponsor, said Wright had tried for years to have the website links taken down. But it was not until HB363 favorably passed the House Education Committee that the two organizations were "decoupled."

"It was the links between the State Office of Education and Planned Parenthood that urged (Wright), in reality, to tighten up the abstinence-only teaching," Dayton, R-Orem, said.

But Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said those links were removed nearly one year ago. They were removed after a Bountiful parent complained about the content of a maturation presentation produced by Planned Parenthood called "Growing Up Comes First" and the apparent endorsement of that program on the office of education's website.

After the bill cleared the Legislature, Galloway said there was talk that a lingering image of the education board's logo may have inadvertently remained somewhere in their system. But she said their website and materials had since been searched "with a fine-toothed comb" to remove any and all references to the office of education.

"When the whole fracas happened last spring, we thought we had removed every recommendation by the State Office of Education," Galloway said.

Galloway said "Growing Up Comes First" is used by a number of school districts in their fifth- and sixth-grade maturation programs and for years, Planned Parenthood worked with the board of education to make the program available to schools. Galloway said there is nothing objectionable in the material and added that districts were free to incorporate or abandon portions of "Growing Up Comes First" as they deemed fit for their students.

"I find it to be a very well-respected curriculum and it is sensitive to local communities," she said.

The program focuses on the developmental changes that accompany puberty, she said, and educates students on topics like acne and body hair and gender-specific subjects. Typically, schools separate students by gender and present only the information relevant to each group.

Brenda Hales, associate superintendent for Instructional Services with the State Office of Education, confirmed that any links to Planned Parenthood on their website were removed prior to the legislative session as a response to the complaint filed last spring. She said the links in question had been put up in 1996 and took some digging to find on the website. But in the years since their posting, she said the pages they directed users to had changed to contain potentially offensive material.

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