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Bill requiring sex ed classes for parents elicits debate, skepticism

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012 5:59 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Under the terms of a bill being drafted by one Utah lawmaker, public schools would be responsible for teaching not only students about human sexuality, but also training parents on how to teach the subject to their children.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden said he intends to sponsor the bill in the upcoming legislative session. The bill would make the Utah State Office of Education responsible for preparing and distributing resources on sex education to parents, as well as hosting seminars around the state where parents could receive face-to-face training on human sexuality instruction.

"Many parents don't feel entirely comfortable," Reid said. "There's reluctance to do that and what's happened is we've turned it over to educators to take that responsibility on what is the most intimate topic in the lives of our children."

The bill is only in draft form, but still managed to elicit debate and skepticism from members of the Education Interim Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, expressed concerns about drawing educational resources away from academic core subjects, like reading, writing and arithmetic. Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, suggested there is already ample resources available online for parents wishing to have a dialogue about sex with their kids.

"There's a tremendous amount of information for parents who want to broach this with their children," Anderson said. "This seems to me to be a government solution for a problem that really isn't ours to own."

Reid emphasized that his intent was to not simply create an online resource but to have some form of setting where parents uncomfortable with the subject of human sexuality could receive face-to-face training from trained educators. But that immediately drew questions about the costs of such a program.

"I don't want to add responsibility to the state office without giving them funding," said Rep. Patrice Arent. "It's hard for me to believe it would be minimal costs."

Reid said his motivation behind the bill stems from a fundamental belief that children should learn about sex from their parents, not their teachers, and that those discussions should take place in the home, not in schools. During the debate and discussion surrounding last spring's controversial HB363 — which was vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert but would have removed discussion of contraception from public school sex education — Reid said he heard from several parents who felt they were ill-equipped to adequately teach the subject to their children at home.

He expressed surprise at the amount of discussion his idea had generated, but emphasized that he intended to pursue the legislation and hoped to receive the committee's support.

"I had no idea this was going to happen, none at all," Reid said. "I thought it was an inane piece of legislation. I'm not sure that I'll ever touch sex education again but this is my effort to respond to a real dilemma."

During the 2012 Legislature, both houses passed HB363 despite opposition from the education community. Parents in the state responded with petitions and by flooding the governor's office with thousands of calls for a veto.

Herbert said he decided to veto the bill because it took away choices from parents, who currently have the ability to opt-out their students from sex ed courses. School districts do not keep track of the number of parents who remove their students, but it is estimated that 90 percent of parents statewide allow their children to participated in school-offered sex education.

Supporters of HB363 often said that discussions about sex are better handled between parent and child. But opponents were quick to counter that many parents were not willing, and perhaps unable, to teach their students about human sexuality, particularly in regards to contraceptive methods and disease prevention.

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