Utah Bill Makes Sex-Ed Optional, Bars Instruction on Contraception, Homosexuality in Class

Effort to Keep 'Moral' Teachings in Parents' Hands?

Utah's Senate has passed a bill that allows school districts to eliminate sexual education instruction, but also prohibits any classroom instruction on contraception use or homosexuality.

According to the newly-passed HB 363, sexual education classes may not include instruction in or advocacy of "the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior; homosexuality; contraceptive methods or devices; or sexual activity outside of marriage."

Instructors may still respond to a "spontaneous question" on these subjects, so long as the response remains consistent with the stated regulations.

Initial drafts of the bill could have also banned the discussion of subjects such as homosexuality, but those restrictions were not included in the version of the bill passed on Wednesday.

The bill passed in the Senate with a vote of 19-10 and very little debate. Since it was already passed by the House on Feb. 23, the bill will now go to Gov. Gary Herbert, who wanted to read the final version of the bill before commenting on whether or not he would sign it into law.

For many of the bill's proponents, the most important part of the bill was giving school districts the option to stay out of sexual education entirely.

"To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded," said Sen. Stuart Reid.

Utah parents have had the opportunity to remove their children from sex-ed classes even before this bill, although they often choose not to do so.

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, only 0.5 percent of junior high students and 0.2 percent of high school students were opted out of sexual education courses in the Granite School District, one of the state's largest.

"We have very few parents who opt out, because they want their kids to hear this information," Liz Zentner, president-elect of the Utah PTA, told the Tribune. "They don't feel like they know all the details about STDs, how they're spread and how to prevent them."

Representatives from the Alpine and Millard school districts also told the Tribune that "the majority" of parents choose to let their children participate in sexual education.

For lawmakers opposed to the bill, however, the main concern is whether or not every parent is able to teach their kids about sexual issues.

"We've been discussing this as if every child has the benefit of two loving and caring parents who are ready to have a conversation about appropriate sexual activity," said Sen. Ross Romero, "and I'm here to tell you that's just not the case."