Thousands call for Herbert to veto sex-ed bill

Nearly identical bill by same lawmaker was vetoed in 2000

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, has received some feedback — mostly in opposition — since the bill's passage, but said that in talking with constituents most people feel better about the bill. He said the correspondence with opponents has been valuable, but he maintains that the HB363 is good policy.

"With all legislation you look at the pros and cons," he said.

Barlow downplayed the effect that the bill would have on curriculum. He said the bill still allows for instruction on physiology and anatomy but prevents more graphic information from entering the curriculum, like the various forms of contraceptives or the intricacies of sexual intercourse.

Wright could not be reached for comment Friday, but made similar comments after the bill passed both chambers of the Legislature.

"A lot of our districts are already teaching abstinence," he said. "This will help us set a path in the future where our curriculum doesn't get hijacked."

Brenda Hales, associate superintendent for instructional services with the State Office of Education, disagreed, saying the bill has the potential to be a major change. Only four districts currently teach an abstinence-only curriculum and HB363 allows for sex education to be discontinued entirely.

Hales is not surprised by the public response to the bill. She said whenever the question of sex in schools is raised, there is a lot of discussion and packed board meetings.

"Sex education is a lightning rod for opinions," she said, "and there are as many opinions as there are people."

Kael Fischer, a research assistant professor of pathology at the University of Utah and father of two, signed the online petition and said schools should be a safe place for factual information. He expressed concern that under the bill's terms, health teachers would not be able to respond honestly to questions and students would lack valuable information on safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

"I don't think legislating ignorance is a very good idea," he said. "I think politicians should pay attention to this one. They stepped over the line."

Fischer was impressed with the comprehensive sex education that his daughter received in California. He said with or without the bill, he would make sure his son has the information he needs. But not all parents may be willing, or able, to discuss the facts behind public health issues like teen pregnancy and communicable disease.

"It's something I want my son's peers to know about," he said.

Caines called the bill "nonsensical" and said it is counter-productive to the goal of reducing teen pregnancy. Sex education, he said, provides crucial information to teens on the risks of sexual activity, like the correlations between teen pregnancy and poverty, that inform the decision to abstain and that the average parent is not capable of discussing with their children.

"I don't believe they have the numbers that teenagers should be presented with," he said. "This is information that educators have and that is the best way to accomplish the goals that the Legislature, with this short-sighted bill, are trying to accomplish."

Like many parents, Caines said he is concerned about the information presented to his children at school. For that reason, he said, sex education should neither be banned nor mandated but should leave the choice to parents to opt-in or opt-out their children, as current Utah law allows.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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