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Students speak out in favor of sex education bill, which narrowly advances

Published: Monday, Feb. 11 2013 3:51 p.m. MST

The bill would also create a degree of conflict with local school boards and community councils, Martell said, which are currently empowered to tailor sex education instruction to meet the needs of local residents.

"I respect that right for local school boards to make those curriculum decisions," he said. "It now eliminates the possibility for that type of local input and local control."

Menlove was also concerned about funding for the terms of the bill. There is currently no fiscal note assigned to SB39 and in addition to the creation of an online resource, the bill calls for notices to be mailed home two times each year to make parents aware that the information is accessible online.

"I would remind you that a mailed notice to 600,000 students in the state of Utah does have a price to it," Menlove said. "Someone is going to be paying a half a million dollars."

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, also spoke in opposition to the bill. He said educational material is already readily available online from private and non-profit organizations for those parents who desire it and added that the bill falls outside the role of government.

"I do not agree that there is a constitutional mandate to educate parents," he said. "There will be costs, there will be increased invasiveness into the home."

After repeated testimony in support of the bill, the meeting's tone shifted suddenly and SB39 appeared poised to fail after three of the six senators present expressed a desire to hold the bill until some of its kinks had been worked out. Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Salt Lake City, said she shared Menlove's concern that a single, open website presented access issues and also added that the bill placed an effectively impossible burden on the state office of education to create a resource that would please all parties.

"I just feel like we're putting our good education people in a very awkward position because no matter what they come up with for the curriculum, it just seems that someone will not feel comfortable with what it is," she said.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, also remarked on the high number of educational resources already available online and asked if the bill shouldn't be given more time to assess what is needed.

"When I see the quality of the kinds of resources there are out there now, I wonder if we shouldn't hold the bill and see if we can fine-tune it more," he said.

Reid said he was "bewildered" by the discussion of his bill. He said it was intentionally written as a modest initial approach to ease the burden on the Utah State Office of Education.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, joked that bewilderment typically accompanies discussion of sex education. He said the bill calls for nothing more than for the content currently being taught in schools to be provided online, where it would help parents make more informed decisions about allowing their children to participate in sex education courses.

"The sands shift rapidly when we deal with this issue," he said. "It's tied to what we're teaching in our schools and it shocks me that someone wouldn't want to have a tool that parents can have so that parents perfectly understand what their children are being taught."

The bill ultimately cleared the committee with a 4-2 vote. It will now go before the full Senate for debate and consideration.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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