By Corinne Murdock
A bill further regulating K-12 sex education courses moved closer to full passage on Wednesday. In a 6-4 party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee determined that parents should have a greater say in what their kids learn when it comes to sex education.
The bill would require school boards to give parents advance notice of the education, acquire signed and written parental consent, as well as inform parents about their rights to opt into the course and review the materials and activities.
Currently, parents must opt their child out of the instruction. And, gender identity and gender expression weren’t included as topics requiring parental consent – just sexuality.
The bill would also limit schools from offering sex education, AIDS, and HIV instruction until students are in the fifth grade.
If passed, schools would have until December 15 of this year to change their courses to comply with the new law.
In the event that schools are modifying or drafting sex education courses thereafter, all corresponding committee meetings and proposed curriculum must be made public. The community would have 60 days and at least two public hearings to weigh in on the proposed curriculum.
The bill specified that schools aren’t required to offer sex education instruction.
For charter schools that do wish to teach about AIDS or HIV, they must ensure that the curriculum will be grade-level appropriate, medically accurate, promoting abstinence, discouraging drug use, adn dispelling myths about transmission. These schools would also be granted the ability to have the Arizona Department of Health Services or Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to review the materials.
Only four committee members voted against the bill: César Chávez (D-Phoenix), Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe), Diego Rodriguez (D-Phoenix), and Domingo Degrazia (D-Tucson).
Committee members Walter Blackman (R-Snowflake), Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria), Russell Bowers (R-Mesa), and Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott Valley) voted in favor of it.
Senate Education testimonies from those urging passage of the bill asserted that parental rights are being violated daily, and that parents know what’s best for their children. They cited examples of schools telling parents and children that sex education classes are mandatory, refusing to share curriculum materials with parents, and circumventing parental notification on the implementation of new curriculum like “Genderbread.”
The ACLU argued that the bill violates the Equal Protection Clause, saying that LGBTQ students’ rights would be threatened. Other teachers testifying concurred.
During the final vote in the Senate, Democratic opposed empowering parents to choose whether their children received exposure to certain sex education courses.
Juan Mendez (D-) likened the negative commentary around parents’ lack of knowledge on the materials within school sex education courses as “scare tactics.”
“[S]tudents are going to hear and learn all about this stuff whether or not parents want them to. So, do you want it to happen alone on the internet? Or, in the safe embrace of a school setting with comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education?” asserted Mendez. “We should be providing youth with opportunities to increase their knowledge, explore values, and develop positive skills. Any of that would do so much to mitigate interpersonal violence and dating violence.”
State Senator Sally Ann Gonzalez (D-) accused the bill of targeting LGBTQ students, and limiting teachers and administrators from creating safe, inclusive environments. She went so far as to claim it could violate Title X and the Constitution, therefore opening up the state to legal battles.
“This bill is a sweeping bill that impacts the ability of teachers to speak about a wide range of issues impacting all students,” stated Gonzalez. “Everyone has a gender identity and a sexual orientation, so this bill would – could inhibit the profession of everyone’s experience of gender and romantic relationships in the world.”
State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai (D-) dismissed the examples provided by XX as an exception to the rule – a few, one-off incidents of the very worst types of education presented to students, not the norm.
The Senate passed the bill in a close, party-line vote on March 3.
Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.