State House bill seeks to amend sex education rule, prohibition

Thursday , February 01, 2018 - 5:00 AM

A bill introduced by state Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, seeks to repeal language in health education curriculum that prevents teachers from advocating or encouraging certain sexual behaviors.

Health Education Amendments, or House Bill 232, would repeal a provision in the state law and school board rule prohibiting “the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices.”

The bill, which lacks a Senate sponsor, had its first reading Friday, Jan. 26, on the House Rules Committee.

“I just heard from so many teachers that said they are afraid to talk about contraceptives,” Ward said. “If you are a teacher, what are you going to do? Skip the unit?”

Under the current law and rule, superintendents are required to report teachers who violate the provisions of the rule to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission.

Ward, a family physician, said schools might be the only option for some students to learn about contraceptives.

“It costs $90 to see me,” Ward said. “It shouldn’t cost that much to get this information.”

Asked about the likelihood of the bill making it through the House, Ward said, “I have no idea.”

> Utah legislator proposes sex ed online instead of in class

“There are still some people who find the idea of contraceptives suspicious,” Ward said.

Bill Duncan, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute, said the bill raises some questions.

“We don’t believe the role of the public school is to give advice on this matter,” Duncan said. “It might be wiser to have the state school board clarify the law.”

Duncan said as long as the goal is educating, teachers should not feel constraint when teaching the curriculum.

But, who decides if a teacher is educating or advocating? It’s not clear.

Jeralyn Perkins is the health educator and leader of the abstinence education program at the Weber-Morgan Health Department. She trains health teachers of Weber, Morgan and Ogden school districts on abstinence-based curriculum.

She said teachers are having a hard time teaching the subject.

“They are very hesitant because really defining the line between advocating and educating is really hard,” Perkins said.

According to 2016 data from the Utah Department of Health, five small areas within Weber County exceeded the state’s teen pregnancy rate of 17.6 per 1,000 girls ages 15-19. The national teen pregnancy rate is 22.3.

 

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The five areas above the state’s pregnancy rate are downtown Ogden (39.2), Ben Lomond (33.3), South Ogden (26.8), Riverdale (23.8) and Roy/Hooper (22.6).

Ben Lomond constitutes the vicinity of the high school in Ogden School District, according to Lori Buttars, Weber-Morgan Health Department’s public information officer. 

Perkins said the bill could help reduce the teen pregnancy rate in the area. She said the bill gives teachers an opportunity to have a conversation with students about contraceptives.

“Overall, this bill allows us to reach more youth,” Perkins said.

Contact Education Reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at [email protected] or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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