Legislation requiring the teaching of controversial sex education content passed the state Senate Health & Human Services committee Thursday on a party line vote after a hearing lasting late into the night. More than 200 citizens testified at the hearing.
HB19-1032 adds curriculum requirements to the existing law mandating comprehensive sex education in public schools that choose to offer any sex education.
Schools must either offer “comprehensive human sexuality education” classes that conform to all of the content requirements and restrictions or they cannot offer any sex education courses at all. The bill also prohibits the state board of education from waiving the new content requirements for any school that provides sex education, including public charter schools.
While students would be able to opt-out of classes, the bill does not require the school to provide alternative access to sex education materials, potentially leaving students without critical sexual health information.
One of the amendments approved at the hearing blocks public schools from engaging “the instructional services of an organization or individual that is a direct or indirect recipient of money from the federal government.”
The federal program referred to is the Sexual Risk Avoidance Education program that provides block grants to states that “ensure that the unambiguous and primary emphasis and context for each topic…is a message to youth that normalizes the optimal health behavior of avoiding non-marital sexual activity,” otherwise known as the abstinence-only program.
Suggesting that the bill be laid over until May 4 for more consideration, committee member Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said, “I came in here with an open mind thinking that this was about sex education. It’s not. I was really impressed by the students who indicated that this will drive a further wedge into the problem. I think there’s a ton of work that’s going to be needed on this.
At the conclusion of the hearing, before the final vote was taken, bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd D-Aurora, said, “This bill doesn’t tell districts how they have to teach, what classes they have to offer or how it is actually relayed. That is left to local control. School districts, school boards, teachers, parents are going to have to figure out how it works for them in their district and in their schools. That’s is the beauty of this bill. It is not telling anyone ‘here’s the roadmap, this is what you have to do and how you have to do it.’ You get to decide.”
But the bill lays out both required and prohibited information and practices and how they are to be taught. For example, the bill says specifically that curricula cannot “exclude the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.” It also says that if schools teach about pregnancy outcomes the instruction must be “provided in an objective, unbiased manner and must not endorse or favor one or more pregnancy outcomes.” It prohibits teaching abstinence as the primary or sole method of pregnancy prevention.
Many speakers at the hearing objected to abortion being placed on an equal moral plane with parenting or adoption. Accusations were heard from several speakers that the bill was “written by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.” Todd vigorously denied this charge.
Crowder said, “I’m very concerned about Planned Parenthood being involved in this. It sounds to me like there is a promotion of abortion, and due to my pro-life values I cannot support that. I think that this is more of a social engineering and political situation.”
Many citizens who testified against the bill Thursday said the bill substantially burdens a parent’s right to guide their child’s sexual education.
Speakers voiced the opinion that the intent of the bill is to indoctrinate students into acceptance of LGBTQ sexual orientations and abortion by creating a loophole in the law that allows both educators and invited speakers to present what may be offensive material outside of a sex ed class to students without parental notification or consent.
Many people spoke in favor of the bill, some of whom cited a need to instill tolerance and acceptance of alternative sexuality as one of their primary concerns. Bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault and consent were all stated as reasons that state control of sex ed curricula is desirable.
Speakers included those who related traumatic events in their own lives. At one point committee chair Rhonda Fields recessed the hearing to recover her composure after testimony that was particularly emotional for her.
The bill passed on a 3 to 2 party line vote and will now go to the Senate Appropriations committee for consideration.