AP NEWS

Idaho House passes ‘opt-in’ sex education bill

March 6, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill that would require parents to “opt in” before their children can receive sex education in school has cleared the Idaho House on a party-line vote.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls, now heads to the Senate side of the GOP-controlled Idaho Legislature.

The legislation would require parents to specifically opt-in before their children can attend sex education lessons at public schools. That’s the opposite of the current system, in which all students receive sex education as part of the standard health curriculum unless their parents opt out.

Ehardt says the sex education classes have normalized sexual behavior and that parents don’t understand what is currently being presented to their kids. She says the bill will allow parents to better direct their children’s education.

“Parents have no say, no understanding of that which is being presented,” Ehardt said.

She said some schools bring in guest educators who go beyond the basic curriculum to discuss topics like oral or anal sex and who describe abstinence as choosing not to do any sexual activity that carries a risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Ehardt also said students are sometimes told they can get access to birth control at local clinics without parental permission.

“Parents have the right to direct and educate their children,” she said, noting that Arizona, Utah and Nevada have similar opt-in rules.

Rep. Jake Ellis, a Democrat from Boise, said currently between 2 and 3 percent of students opt out of sex education, and the bill would make the exception the rule. He said concerns about the curriculum should be solved by addressing the curriculum, not by targeting the process by which parents decide whether their child will take the class.

“It’s very likely that fewer young adults will get this information and that leads, quite frankly, to more unprotected sex,” Ellis said. “If you are concerned about the content you heard, there are other ways to remedy that.”

Rep. Sally Toone, a Democrat from Gooding, is a certified health education teacher. She says the state defines sex education as the study of reproductive anatomy and physiology, and the bill could force teachers to give parents two weeks’ notice so they have time to opt in before teaching lessons on genetics, communicable diseases, or basic anatomy.

Sex education has become an increasingly contentious issue, said Rep. Gary Marshall, a Republican from Idaho Falls.

To many families, the decision on sex education is a question of purity and chastity, he said.

“There are still hundreds and probably thousands of families in Idaho who still hold a more traditional view of sex, sexual relations,” Marshall said, urging his fellow lawmakers to support the bill.

The bill passed on a 56-14 vote, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against.