The House on Wednesday backed a proposal to require parental permission before students can attend sex education classes in schools, a measure supporters said is necessary to deal with an increasingly controversial curriculum.
Social conservatives are trying again to place limits on local sex education policies they believe are teaching bad morals. A similar bill cleared the Legislature in 2011, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Supporters pointed to a debate over sex education in Helena that led to packed public meetings and ongoing strife between some parents and school officials. House Bill 239 would also ban any organization that provides abortion services from assisting with sex education in schools.
“It simply allows me as the mother to choose how my child is taught about sex education,” said state Rep. Liz Bangerter, R-Helena. “This bill is a mother’s dream bill. Please vote yes.”
The House endorsed the measure 54-43 on an initial vote. It faces another final vote before going to the Senate. Democrats were joined by a few Republicans in opposing the measure.
Opponents said parents currently can opt not to let their children participate in sex education. They argued the proposed law is more burdensome by requiring opt-in permission, and won’t be returned by inattentive parents and their students who might most need the education.
“When people don’t get the proper information, we see things like high school kids getting syphilis, getting gonorrhea, and they are getting pregnant when they are 14,” said Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula. “We want to make sure these high school kids are getting that information from the people who know it. And that is a good thing.”
There have been fewer bills dealing with social issues compared with past sessions, but conservatives are making this particular measure a priority. They argued that parents are always supportive of more information, pointing to overwhelming approval of the November ballot initiative requiring parental consent for teen abortions.
Supporters of the bill said they believe sex education is straying into moral instruction and away from straight information on biology, physiology and anatomy they would prefer.
“Every parent in Montana should have a say in what their child is taught,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Austin Knudsen, a Culbertson attorney.