Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to place sex education resources online for parents narrowly squeezed through a Senate committee Monday after more than an hour of debate.
SB39 received a youthful boost in the form of several members of the Timpview High School debate team who attended Monday's meeting of the Senate Standing Education Committee to speak in favor of the bill. The students expressed a concern that too many of Utah's parents are ill-equipped to discuss human sexuality with their children, and expressed their support for a bill that would empower families to hold discussions of the sensitive issue in the home.
"Understanding that sex is a health issue, parents in the state have a compelling interest to keep their kids healthy and safe," Timpview student Orihah Frandsen said. "We need to understand this issue and parents are the best to teach us."
Rachel Sybrowsky, another Timpview student, said sex education is not the exclusive right of either parents or schools. She said by providing parents with the resources they need to discuss the issue with their children, the bill would increase the number of sex education teachers in the state.
The student was also dismissive of those who oppose the bill, calling the arguments against SB39 "erroneous." She said the bill is not, as some argue, a first step toward removing sex education from public schools but instead provides more opportunities for children to receive the information they need.
"Senate Bill 39 is designed to offer more opportunities in discussing sex education, not less," Sybrowsky said. "There's really no reason to vote against this bill."
While the bill's sponsor, Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, has maintained that the bill would not require changes to the existing sex education curriculum, many who spoke in favor of the bill expressed that the topic belongs primarily in the home and not in the classroom.
Ruth Robertson, a ninth-grade Davis School District student, said sex education is best handled within the safety of a student's home. She also referenced a recent decision by Davis School District officials to return the book "In Our Mothers' House" to school library shelves as evidence that she can no longer trust district leadership to protect her values in regards to sensitive issues like sexual relationships and morality.
"People like me are under attack, especially where sexuality is concerned," Robertson said.
The book, a children's picture book that depicts a family with same-sex parents, was removed from school library shelves after 25 parents objected to its normalization of a homosexual couple. The decision was reversed following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and further district review.
Reid said his motivation for sponsoring SB39 stemmed from the discussion that surrounded a sex education bill that passed the Legislature during last year's session but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert. During the debate of that bill, Reid said he became concerned that the conversation was centered around the content of the state's sex education curriculum, rather than a conversation about parental responsibility.
His bill would require the state office of education to make existing sex education resources available online to inform and empower parents to have supplemental conversations with their children about the topic at home.
"I thought it would be a good tool for parents to be able to sit down with their children and have a conversation," he said. "Too often we abdicate that responsibility to our educators."
The State Board of Education has taken a position of opposition against the bill. At Monday's committee meeting, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove relayed some of the board's concerns, which include an unease about whether Utah's public schools should carry the responsibility of educating parents. He also said the online resource created by the bill could potentially lead to scenarios where younger students gain access to age-inappropriate information.
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