SALT LAKE CITY — A Bountiful lawmaker who is a family physician has filed legislation that would clarify that Utah teachers can teach the factual information about contraception but not advocate for its use.
HB71, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, spells out that instruction on the "medical characteristics, effectiveness and limitations of contraceptive methods and devices" is allowed.
"If it’s allowed in the curriculum, you may teach the basic medical science about it. Nevertheless, you can’t advocate," said Ward.
While Utah's state sex education curriculum is abstinence-based, instruction about contraception is allowed under state law and State School Board rules. Some schools teach an abstinence-only curriculum.
Most Utah schools teach about contraception with some beginning in junior high, depending on local school board policies. Students may not participate in human sexuality education without parental permission, and parents have the option to opt their children out of any section of the curriculum.
Current state law prohibits teachers from advocating or encouraging the use of contraceptive methods or devices.
"I’m in agreement with that principle. It’s not a teacher’s place to advocate or to encourage the use of contraceptives. But there is basic medical information that is really important. To me, that's a very important part of the sex ed class. It’s well north of 90 percent of adults, in their adult lives, use contraceptives to make their family turn out how they hope it does," Ward said.
Some teachers, for fear of overstepping the law, might skip over the unit on contraception or minimize their instruction "or not talking about that for fear of that line," Ward said.
"Right now we have a guardrail on one side of the road, that you can’t go off this side of the road. And by the way, you don’t know exactly where the guardrail is. If someone were to come in and complain you were advocating, because it’s not defined, you could be in trouble," he said.
"I’m hoping that the balancing line will make it easier for them to teach the basics and know that that part is OK."
Jodi Kaufman, health education specialist for the Utah State Board of Education, said support or opposition of a legislative proposal is the purview of the board.
"This clarifies for parents and teachers exactly what can be taught," she said.
Kaufman said the state's health teachers are required to attend training every three years, which covers what is permissible to teach and how to respond to spontaneous questions from students.
"Sometimes, especially a new teacher can be a little bit apprehensive of what exactly they're allowed to do. This bill absolutely clarifies and more importantly, it maybe clarifies for parents what is allowed," Kaufman said.
The State School Board's website also offers this guidance:
"When answering factual questions, make sure you are:
• Providing medically accurate information.7 comments on this story
• Within the core standards, Utah state law, and district or charter school guidelines.
• Considering the age/maturity level of your students.
• Objective, brief, and concise in your response."
The Utah State Board of Education is working through a process to update its health education core standards. Ward's bill does not impact that process, Kaufman said.
"If this bill passes, it doesn't have any effect on our draft standards. Our standards would still be aligned with this if it passes," she said.