Sex education arguments are finished for the State Board of Education but just beginning for legislators.
After a heated debate Friday, the state board approved updating some language but made no drastic changes to its health education core curriculum which includes the sex education component.
Board members pointed out that school districts in Utah can decrease but not increase the amount of sex education given to students in their schools. In fact, Provo and Nebo school districts teach a strictly abstinence-only curriculum.
"That bothers me. Why is that an option? Am I living in a different world? It's unconscionable to me," said Leslie Castle, of Salt Lake City. She voted to update the health curriculum language but was not happy with the overall board rule.
Other board members pointed out it's all about local control.
Board vice chair Dixie Allen, of Vernal, said the people who need to hear these comments are members of the Legislature since the board rule on sex ed is bound by state law.
Lawmakers plan to discuss a controversial change to legislation pertaining to sex education during the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting June 17. On the table is a bill that would allow teachers to instruct students on birth control without worrying about repercussions. HB189 was sponsored by Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake. It was tabled in committee during the 2009 session.
The current State Office of Education rule, in accordance with Utah law, states educators may instruct on contraception options with prior parental consent. The law also states teachers are not to "advocate or encourage the use of contraceptive methods or devices."
Some teens, education officials and lawmakers say students are not getting adequate sex education because teachers are afraid of being accused of advocating sex. Educators are therefore erring on the side of caution by eliminating important information — including contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, the teens said.
"In my class the teacher wasn't even allowed to say the word condom — let alone teach us about it," said Quinn Smith, 16. She will be a senior at West High this fall.
"Teachers are scared," Smith said, speaking to the state board Friday.
Hemingway's bill would amend Utah law to emphasize educators be allowed to instruct students on birth control options "without fear of reprimand."
About a dozen West High School students, affiliated with Planned Parenthood Action Committee, presented statistics and data on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Students and PPAC officials pointed out surveys indicate more than 50 percent of high school students are having sex. Some of the teens said they believe it's more like 70 percent.
Keeping sex education from students is "a violation of their basic rights," said Leeann Webster, PPAC field coordinator.
"It is your responsibility as educators to give these kids the facts," Webster said. "We're not asking for the advocation. We are asking they be taught."
Liz Zentner, state Parent Teacher Association health commissioner, said results of a survey of PTA leaders statewide in May indicated parents want to be the ones giving specific details about sex to their children.
"Parents should be the ones to talk to their kids," Zentner said. "What you are doing is what they want."
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