When it comes to sex education, Kyle Waters told lawmakers the public school system has let him down.
The 30-year-old Murray man, a Layton High School alumnus, said he has started discussing future plans and children with his girlfriend but he realized he doesn't know a thing about family planning options. And he isn't about to ask his 65-year-old mother for current information on contraceptives.
"It was never discussed in any of my classes," Waters told the Legislature's Health and Human Services Interim Committee Wednesday.
Whether parents should take responsibility for teaching their children about sex, or if the task should be left to the schools, is at the heart of whether to change Utah's sex-education curriculum.
Currently, teachers may instruct on contraception options with parental consent. However, some say the education is lacking. Proposed legislation would give parents an option for their children to receive more detail.
After two hours of differing public opinions Wednesday, the committee approved a motion 7-4 urging the Legislature to "not consider any person or organization that promotes, recommends, or teaches high-risk sexual behavior (through) Web sites, examples or talks in public schools."
"It was definitely a direct attack against Planned Parenthood," Melissa Bird, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah, told the Deseret News after the meeting.
"We don't feel like we promote extreme sexual behavior. What we promote is healthy and safe sexual behavior," Bird said, adding committee members are welcome to visit the clinic to learn more.
The committee's action came following a presentation by Los Angeles author and psychiatrist Marion Grossman. She displayed clips from Web sites by Planned Parenthood affiliates around the nation, including a photo of a girl kissing another girl and stick figures showing sexual positions. "Is this what you want for the children of this state?" Grossman said.
However, Bird said Utah's Planned Parenthood affiliate doesn't have such Web sites. "Our Planned Parenthood of Utah is definitely its own unique affiliate," she said. "You can't say we do the same things Planned Parenthood of Texas does."
Discussions on potential legislation will continue as lawmakers prepare for the 2010 legislative session.
A bill, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake, would allow parents to choose between two health classes. One course would be abstinence-based and teach strategies for waiting until marriage but also offer information about issues such as sexually transmitted diseases. The other class would be more open and emphasize abstinence but also offer facts including STD prevention and contraceptive options.
After discussion with state education leaders and lawmakers, Hemingway turned the bill to Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, so potential legislation can start in the Senate instead of the House.
Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka told the committee the current curriculum is fine. "Let's not ruin what already works," she said.
Further, Ruzicka says people are judging parents by whether they teach their children chastity or condoms. "Everybody teaches their children differently," she said. "Who are we to judge? Every parent knows their child and knows what works."
Debbie White, president of American Federation of Teachers of Utah, told the committee that between school and parents, sufficient sex education isn't happening. During four years of her teaching sixth-graders at a school in Utah, three girls became pregnant, she said. "Do we want 12-year-old kids getting pregnant?" White said. "I don't think so."
Liz Zentner, Utah PTA health commissioner, said while the Utah PTA supports the current state sex-ed curriculum, one idea is for the Utah State Office of Education to make a video to show at schools. That way the information would be approved and uniform.
Utah PTA workshop
Utah PTA is hosting a free public workshop on "Parents Speak Up," a program developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services. The seminar includes a free "Ready to Talk" kit. Participants must register by e-mailing Liz Zentner, Utah PTA health commissioner, at [email protected]
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