Sex education is a hot topic in Helena. Two years ago the Helena School District adopted a health enhancement curriculum that included a controversial section pertaining to what is commonly known as sex education. The debate surrounding the sex ed portion of the curriculum gained a lot of attention throughout the state.
That attention, in part, seems to have led to a House Bill 239, which would require a parent’s signature before a child could receive sex education at school. It would also ban groups who provide abortion services from participating in sex ed in schools. A similar bill was passed by the legislature in 2011 and vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Under HB 239, a student in Montana would essentially have to opt for sex ed via a permission form signed by their parent or guardian.
Under current law, students receive sex ed by default and can opt out, via a request from a parent or guardian.
The bill’s requirement of opting in for sex ed essentially misses the point.
Most parents are concerned with what their children are taught. They should be concerned about school curriculum and they should be aware of what it is.
This awareness and engagement in a school’s curriculum shouldn’t take legislation. It shouldn’t take the government taking away sex ed for everyone but the students who get a waiver. This awareness is on the shoulders of both the parents and the educators and it takes a constructive and open relationship between schools and families.
The problem with HB 239 is it sets a default of no sex ed for all students. This means when students walk through the doors of a school, their curriculum will not include sex education unless their parent or guardian says it’s OK.
The debate surrounding sex education can be heated and divisive. It’s necessarily different than other parts of the school curriculum because it deals with deeply personal issues that are influenced by things like ethnicity, family and faith.
And yet expressions of sex and sexuality are an ever growing part of our daily lives, for better or worse. Kids begin to have questions about sexuality at a young age and we’ve all heard the horror stories about children engaging in sexual activity much, much earlier than appropriate.
Children whose parents read to them at a young age are better prepared for reading and writing in preschool and kindergarten. Similarly, it’s logical that kids with parents who talk to them about sex and sexuality are better prepared to face those challenges in adolescence and adulthood.
But there are kids who have parents who will never have a meaningful conversation with them about sex. They’ll never sit them down for the “talk,” never explain the hurt and joy that come from sharing your heart with someone, never caution against the dangers of promiscuity, never discuss the varying views or lifestyles that come along with sexuality. Too many parents leave it to the schools and the world at large to teach such things to their children. And, quite honestly, that is a shame.
So for these students, sex ed is important and many of them won’t have a parent who cares enough to find out what is being taught at school or to sign a permission form.
Schools have to get parental signatures to compete in athletics. Many schools also require parents to approve class schedules. Why can’t the sex ed curriculum be included in the packets provided to parents at the beginning of the year? This doesn’t require legislation; it requires school districts and parents working together.
And even though Helena’s sex ed portion of their health curriculum was controversial when it was approved in 2010, very few parents have opted to pull their students out of the classes, said Helena Superintendent Kent Kultgen.
Let’s not create legislation to accomplish something that better communication would solve. HB 239 has been transmitted to the senate and we hope it goes no further. However, we do hope the discussion continues on how best to provide our kids with the sex education they need.