Legislative tinkering a distraction on sex-ed

The Indiana House Education Committee made an atrocious sex-education bill considerably less awful Tuesday. Now Senate Bill 65 is just a bad, unnecessary bill, and it still deserves to be rejected.

But the push-and-pull by legislators is distracting from something more important: Hoosier children and youth have a right to age-appropriate, accurate information about sexuality. And if it doesn’t start in school, they may have to fend for themselves, sometimes with bad results.

Statehouse“I wish health education would be comprehensive, K-12, and that sexuality would be part of that,” said Catherine Sherwood-Laughlin, clinical professor in the Indiana University Bloomington-School of Public Health. “Sexuality education is a sensitive topic, and it can be difficult to teach and talk about. But it’s also important and should be part of the overall health curriculum.”

As approved by the Senate, SB 65 would bar public schools from teaching sexuality education to students unless their parents consent in writing. A House amendment changed the consent procedure. Schools would twice send parents a consent form. If parents don’t respond after they second time, the students can be included in sexuality education classes.

Sherwood-Laughlin teaches college students how to teach sexuality education. She also works with the School of Public Health, IU Health’s Positive-Link program and the Indiana Department of Education to teach sexuality education in schools and provide training for teachers.

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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.

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