Bill requiring sex ed classes for parents elicits debate, skepticism

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

The idea of training parents in sex education was briefly considered during the last legislative session. At one point, human sexuality was added to a bill, HB420, that directed schools to hold an annual parent seminar on topics like teen violence, drug abuse and mental health.

The amendment drew several objections in the House of Representatives and ultimately sank the bill. In the Senate, support for HB420 fizzled after Senate President Michael Waddoups expressed his concern that the seminars would place an unnecessary burden on schools.

Rep. Steven Eliason, who sponsored HB420 and sits on the Education Interim Committee, said he intends to reintroduce the legislation during the upcoming session.

Members of the education community have expressed tentative support for Reid's bill. Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove said Reid sought input from the state office of education. He expressed appreciation for the senator involving his office in the discussions and said materials already exist that could be incorporated into training material. But Menlove said more conversations would be necessary regarding the costs of administering training sessions to parents or creating an adaptable online resource, as Reid had described during the committee meeting. 

Dawn Davies, vice president for legislation with the Utah Parent Teacher Association, said the PTA supports any effort to provide education resources to parents, provided that it doesn't draw resources away from schools.

"The funds are spread thin already," she said. "We want to make sure its funded."

Davies would like to see parents better-informed about the resources that already exist, such as programs offered by religious groups, organizations like Planned Parenthood and even parent-training offered by the PTA.

She also expressed some concerns about whether state-sponsored sex education seminars would draw a large enough number of parents to be cost effective. Similar training offered by the PTA sees a "limited number" of participants, she said.

Reid was adamant that his bill would not alter the sex ed curriculum currently taught in schools. He also said he has spoken to parents who had expressed a willingness to participate in a face-to-face training, but being non-mandatory it was possible the number of attendees would not warrant multiple training sessions around the state.

"At that point, like any other bill that may be ineffective, you'd have to reassess what it's worth," Reid said. "But one thing it does do is take all the excuses away from parents."

Reid said he was not particularly worried about the questions and comments he received from the education committee. The bill is still early in its life and he wants committee members' input and feedback as he works with education officials to refine the language of the bill.

"You can never predict from one meeting what will happen," he said.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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