Keeping parents in the sex ed loop
States consider opt-in and opt-out laws for students and families
In 2010, several hundred parents packed a Helena, Mont., school board meeting to voice opposition to the district’s proposed K-12 comprehensive sexual education curriculum. The district adopted it anyway.
Since then, state Sen. Cary Smith, a Republican, has made multiple attempts to pass a bill allowing parents to opt their children in or out of sex ed. Democratic governors vetoed two of his bills in 2011 and 2013. Smith is trying a third time to pass the legislation now that Montana voters have elected the state’s first GOP governor in 16 years.
“We’re hoping the third time’s a charm,” said Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation.
Some school districts in rural areas already allow parents to opt their kids out of sex ed, Laszloffy said. He and Smith believe a state mandate is needed to ensure all school districts notify parents about upcoming lessons involving sexuality, gender, and reproduction—and give them a chance to request their children do not participate.
“A lot of times those teachings conflict with what we try to teach our children at home and in our churches,” Smith said. His bill also prohibits Planned Parenthood from providing sex ed instruction in schools since the abortion giant profits from students seeking its services.
One Democratic New York lawmaker introduced a bill this month that would require the state’s sex ed program to meet national standards set by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The guidelines recommend teaching kindergarten through second grade students to define reproduction, identify all body parts, including genitalia, and discuss gender expression. Middle school students learn to define sexual acts and describe how to use and access contraception. School districts and states such as California, Oregon, and Washington have adopted similar K-12 comprehensive sexual education curriculum.
Thirty-six states, including New York, allow parents to opt their children out of sex ed instruction, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Conservative lawmakers in states including Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, and Kansas have recently introduced bills to change existing opt-out laws to opt-in. Five states require parental consent for children to receive instruction on human sexuality at school.
“Opt-out policies require parents to do more digging … whereas opt-in forces parents to make a clear choice,” Laszloffy said.
Smith’s bill was originally drafted as an opt-in policy, but it was amended to an opt-out measure after groups such as the Montana School Boards Association opposed it.
In Iowa, a Senate bill seeks to require written parental consent for lessons involving gender identity for students in first through fifth grades. Idaho’s bill would keep in place the state’s current opt-out process for instruction on basic human anatomy, physiology, and reproduction. But it would require parents to sign a permission slip for lessons covering human sexuality.
“We’re not changing the content,” Republican Idaho Rep. Barbara Ehardt, the bill’s sponsor, told Idaho Education News. “We are changing consent and saying that some of these topics are of such a nature—I think all of them, to be honest—that parents need to be involved.”
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