Sex education opt-in bill dies in Idaho Senate committee

Sex education opt-in bill dies in Idaho Senate committee

This story was originally posted on on March 20, 2019.

A controversial sex education “opt-in” bill is dead for the session.

Citing a range of concerns — including the potential cost to schools, and the potential impact on a variety of academic disciplines — the Senate Education Committee voted Wednesday to hold the bill in committee.

One of the most hotly debated education bills of the year, House Bill 120 would have fundamentally restructured Idaho’s sex education law. Currently, parents can choose to opt their children out of sex-ed classes. HB 120 would have required parental consent before a student could participate in a sex-ed class, “or any instruction or presentation regarding sexuality.”

Senate Education killed the bill on a voice vote; Emmett Republican Steven Thayn cast the lone dissenting vote, after suggesting he would like to try to amend the bill and pass it this year. The committee vote was a marked departure from the House, where the bill passed in committee and on the floor on party-line votes.

In many ways, Wednesday’s hearing touched on recurring themes in the sex-ed debate.

The bill’s author, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, said her bill would reassert parental rights, and allow them to make decisions about what their children learn about an emotionally charged subject.

“This is not a new concept,” said Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. “I don’t know how we got away from it.”

A sex education course can expose students to subject matter before they are mature enough for it, said John Paulton of the Family Policy Alliance of Idaho.

“Let’s allow parents to make that informed choice, based on where their kids are at,” he said.

Opponents said the bill was fraught with problems.

Since the bill addresses all subject matter regarding sexuality — not just the relatively well-defined topic of sex education — the language could affect the way teachers address everything from the sciences to literature. And the restrictive language could prevent schools from providing students with information about sexual assault and sexual harassment, said Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association.

Opponents also painted the bill as cumbersome.

Speaking on behalf of the National Organization of Women’s Southwest Idaho Chapter, Donna Yule said it was “just silly” to burden parents with an opt-in paperwork requirement, when they can already pull their children from sex-ed classes.

Lori Gash, health coordinator for the West Ada School District, said the bill would create a logistical challenge for a school system with more than 3,000 students at each grade level.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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