BOISE — An Idaho Falls lawmaker introduced a bill Friday to give parents more information about what is being offered in sex education programs and put more limits on what guest instructors can do.
Sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, the bill would change state code so parents have to opt their children into sex education, rather than opting them out as is the law now. It also would require that any materials used in the class be available for parents to review before they let their children participate.
And it would require any guest presentation on sex ed to comply with the state’s 1970 sex education law. This law defines sex education as “the study of the anatomy and the physiology of human reproduction,” says parents and community groups should be involved in devising the curriculum and also includes language about how families and churches, not schools, should be viewed as primarily responsible for sex education.
Ehardt said her goal is to give parents more control. The House Education Committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill, clearing the way for a full hearing later.
In response to a question from Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, Ehardt said she hadn’t spoken to anyone with the Idaho School Boards Association while drafting the bill, but “we have heard from many, many parents (about) their lack of input.”
“The parental input is most important to me,” Ehardt said. She said parents should have the right to determine what their children hear, and “the parental rights are being overstepped. That’s what we’re trying to fix here.”
In a video interview a week ago with Duke Pesta, an academic director of the FreedomProject Academy who is known for his advocacy for homeschooling and opposition to Common Core, Ehardt criticized sex education programs that, she said, were funded by federal grants and evaded state requirements.
At one point, Pesta displayed a student permission slip for a “touch-self protocol” in Bonneville Joint School District 93, and a picture from the curriculum showing a man lying on a bed masturbating.
“That is nothing more than advocacy for sexual practices,” Pesta said. “That is not informational.”
District officials said the permission slip and picture were not part of District 93’s normal curriculum, but an attempt to address inappropriate behavior by a handful of special education students. According to a letter special education directors Rex Miller and Julian Duffy sent to school trustees in October 2018, there were problems with some of these students going to the bathroom, emptying their colostomy bags or masturbating in class. Pictures, they said, were included since some of the students had low verbal skills.
“The protocol was sent home, and we’re not teaching them how (to masturbate),” said Assistant Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme. “I would say that if students are ... demonstrating behaviors that are violating social norms, that includes urinating, defecating, showing masturbatory behavior, if students are doing those things then our intent is to show them the appropriate place to do those things. In particular with masturbation, we reached out to parents for permission from the parents before we taught where the appropriate place for that to happen will be.”
Miller and Duffy wrote that “portions of the sensitive material provided to parents may have been released in part to social media or politically active sections of our community. Specifically, it is being reported that the district is running a curriculum to ‘teach students how to masturbate,’ which includes the pictures that have been sent home.”
“Frankly speaking, I’m certainly disappointed that (Ehardt) did not reach out to us to try and receive any kind of clarifying information about the situation and instead went straight to a talk show and talked about it from a perspective where she doesn’t understand the context of what happened and why it happened,” Woolstenhulme said.
Pesta and Ehardt also criticized the “Reducing the Risk” curriculum, which emphasizes abstinence but also teaches about birth control.
“We are sexualizing our kids,” Ehardt said. “We’re spending an inordinate amount of time on this sort of activity when we could be teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Without a doubt, we are shifting our values and I don’t believe that they’re Idaho values. I believe they’re the values of those powers that be that are perpetrating that on our kids.”
Reducing the Risk is a 16-week-long program that is taught at 17 high schools in the state and one middle school, Department of Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr said in an email.
“It emphasizes abstinence as the safest choice and encourages protection for those choosing to have sex to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including (AIDS),” Forbing-Orr wrote.
She said the state Department of Education approved the program in 2009, and the supplemental materials are paid for with a federal grant.
“Local school boards, school districts, and schools ultimately make the final decision about whether to use the optional materials, and parents always have the right to choose whether their children participate if a school offers the optional material,” Forbing-Orr wrote. “We understand the concerns raised by the lawmakers, and we are working with Idaho legislators, the state Department of Education, the public health districts, our attorneys, the governor’s office, and others to ensure everyone understands what Reducing the Risk covers, how it is implemented, and next steps.”