Controversial sex ed bill was designed to remove Planned Parenthood from schools

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

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.

"We were surprised by the link," she said. "There were some aspects about it that were walking the line."

A bill nearly-identical to HB363 was sponsored by Wright in 2000 and was subsequently vetoed by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt at the urging of the State Board of Education. As part of that veto, a number of rules were set in place regarding sex education, including a requirement that parents opt-in their students in districts where information on contraceptives is presented, a requirement that all sex education materials be approved at the district level by a committee of parents and the district school board, and a mechanism for parents to lodge complaints.

Current law also permits school districts to implement a curriculum that is more conservative than what is allowed by law and four districts currently teach an abstinence-only curriculum. If signed into law, the remaining 37 districts in the state would be required to change their sex education courses, or discontinue them entirely.

Weber State University has also announced that the bill would require it to discontinue concurrent enrollment courses that currently serve 850 Weber and Davis county students. 

Hales said the only documented complaint that reached the state office in the 12 years since those rules were enacted was that of the Bountiful parent last spring addressing the website links. She also said that while there is no hard data available, it is estimated that between 92 and 95 percent of parents grant permission for their children to attend sex education and maturation courses.

The office of education has not taken a formal position regarding HB363, but State Superintendent Larry Shumway has said that curriculum decisions should be made at the local district level.

Dayton said regardless of when the links were removed, HB363 would prevent similar endorsements or collaboration between educators and Planned Parenthood from occurring in the future. She maintained that the bill is good policy for Utah, allowing for the continuation of biological and physiological discussion in classrooms and an emphasis on abstinence before marriage.

"We have a clinical discussion but anytime you get into talking about contraceptives or alternative lifestyles or other things, then you're going into a counseling session," Dayton said.

Galloway, however, said that "Growing Up Comes First" is only used by elementary-age students for maturation programs. Planned Parenthood, she said, has no involvement in the curriculum of students in middle and high school sex education courses despite being frequently targeted by proponents of the bill.

"Many of (Wright's) disparaging comments are directed at Planned Parenthood so I've got to believe that he doesn't like us," she said.

She said that much of the debate surrounding the bill has given rise to misunderstanding of what is actually being taught.

"All that was ever mentioned was that there is such a thing as contraception," she said. "The whole discussion to me has set a very interesting portrayal of what happens (in schools)."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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