Supporters of House Bill 456 say parents need more control over the values taught in schools. Opponents say there are opt-out options for sensitive materials and that preventing abortion service providers from offering materials to students would cut out information about prevention, as is provided from organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, introduced HB456 to the Education Committee Monday afternoon. The bill would allow for parental control over whether students participate in courses that teach human sexual education. It would also require a school district to inform a parent or guardian when events or courses on human sexuality will be held or taught, and it would prohibit a school district from allowing any abortion services provider to offer materials or instruction at school.
“I brought the bill because I think we are getting ourselves in a position where the government and other people are trying to decide what is right for our children,” Smith said. “Also, because this is a problem that came to us last year in Helena … the situation in Helena created this.”
Barbara Rush, a retired Helena teacher and outspoken opponent to the recently adopted Health Enhancement Curriculum, said its a sad day when a bill needs to be passed to protect children from the school curriculum.
Capital High School senior Sylvan Clark said that during his sophomore year Planned Parenthood came into his class, unannounced to his parents, to talk about sexually transmitted diseases and condoms.
“I was appalled at the graphic movie they showed us,” he said.
Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, said this bill puts parents back in the driver’s seat.
“It’s necessary and a reasonable response to what happened in Helena,” he said.
The original health education document in Helena took serious criticism, and Superintendent Bruce Messinger took community input and made edits, but Laszloffy said those changes were merely in the wording and not in the substance.
“It’s a plan that will be pushed out throughout the entire state.”
One mother said instead of an opt-out, maybe there should be an opt-in for the sexual education materials.
Mother Lori Page said the bill is a step in the right direction of making parents and schools co-partners in education. She said having pro-abortion groups in the schools is a huge conflict of interest.
Grandmother Charlene Pulliam said allowing abortion providers to teach about sexual education is like allowing the fox to guard the hen house.
Many of the opponents represented Planned Parenthood.
Lindsey Love, for example, said the bill is not about parent involvement, but rather about telling local school districts which resources they can use.
“Prevention is our big agenda,” Love said.
Jill Baker, education director with Planned Parenthood, said about half of high school students in Montana are sexually active, and two out of 10 women become pregnant by the age of 20.
She noted that only 3 percent of the organization’s services are for abortion. She also noted that many schools already have an opt-out option.
Helena and East Helena school districts both have opt-out options.
Nancy Nicholson, who supported Helena’s Health Enhancement Curriculum, said this bill is an attempt to take away local control and exclude health professionals from the schools.
Donna Miller, who works for Planned Parenthood, said not giving students information gives predators an easy target.
Many members of Planned Parenthood’s teen board spoke in opposition. Emily Vangenderen, a senior at CHS, said all teens need reliable information, and Planned Parenthood provides that without pushing values.
Elena Hodges, also on the board, said she would have benefited from more information in middle school and early high school.
“This bill could harm any benefits of a curriculum just being taught here,” she said.
Helenan Mary Ann Dunwell said students have a right to live beyond “la-la” land.
She said the bill is unnecessary, and if passed, it would be blatant censorship against Planned Parenthood.
Helena High School junior Tess Dufrechou said there are misconceptions everywhere; the bottom line is, the kid will choose to engage or not to engage in sex, so they should have the information.
Messinger and Helena School Board Chairman Michael O’Neil testified that the bill would be a state intrusion on local control.
Rep. Smith said the bill is necessary.
“We need to, as legislators, continue to strengthen parents,” he said.
The Education Committee is expected to vote on Wednesday.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com