Sex education bill not about transparency

Supporters of Senate Bill 65 in the Indiana Legislature say they want to enable parents to inspect the materials that schools use to teach sexuality education. But that’s not what this legislation is about.

Parents already have a right to see textbooks and instructional materials used by public schools under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. So does anyone else who wants to see them.

Luke Britt, the state public access counselor, confirmed that the materials would almost certainly have to be shared as public records. And I don’t believe any responsible public-school administrator would refuse to let parents or others see them. They’re public schools, after all. That’s also true of science and social-studies materials, which can also be controversial.

Instead, SB 65 aims to make it harder for schools to teach about sexuality – especially aspects of sexuality, specifically mentioned in the bill, that the measure’s supporters condemn. It would prohibit public schools from providing “instruction on human sexuality, including sexual activity, sexual orientation or gender identity” without written consent from parents.

The Senate approved the bill three weeks ago by a vote of 37-12. It’s now eligible for action in the House and is on the agenda Tuesday morning for the House Education Committee.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, which opposes the bill, said it could make it harder for schools to provide basic information on sexuality, including facts about human development that are part of the health education curriculum.

“Our biggest concern is making sure health education can be taught,” she aid. “There can actually be lifelong consequences if students are not educated and aware about human sexuality.”

School-based sex education may not be perfect, but learning from a teacher about sexuality – including how to prevent pregnancy, HIV and STDs – is better than learning from friends or from what students find online. And while requiring parental consent may not sound like a big deal, every teacher knows that getting parents to complete and return permission forms can be like pulling teeth.

The bill is being pushed by small but active religious right organizations, including Advance America and the Indiana Family Institute. Advance America head Eric Miller, whom critics have called “a political operator who twists arms behind the scenes and distorts the truth publicly,” is exhorting his army of true believers to contact their legislators and insist they pass the bill to “protect children, including in kindergarten, from being taught about sex ….” No doubt they are doing so.

Meredith, the ISTA president, said she doesn’t have a problem with letting parents opt their kids out of sexuality education, a common approach in Indiana schools. But the opt-in requirement, she said, “seems like a step back.”

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