February 23, 2018

Hearing on sex education ‘opt in’ bill is held in House

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A bill to establish the state’s sex education program as an “opt in” rather than an “opt out” program received a lengthy hearing in the House Education Committee on Feb. 15. The bill is expected to pass the panel before the end of February. The plan passed the Indiana Senate on Jan. 30 by a vote of 37-12. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the bill.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, author of Senate Bill 65, said the legislation would require schools to make the curriculum on human sexuality available to the public and parents. The school would have to get a parent’s written consent for a student to participate in the course.

“If you have to get permission to take a child on a field trip to a museum, then I think it’s more important to get permission to teach a class about human sexuality than it is to get permission to go to a museum,” said Kruse. “I think asking for parental permission for this reason is merited.”

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana, testified in support of legislation, saying, “God entrusts children to parents. Parents have the responsibility to form and provide an integral education for their children.

“Parents have a particular responsibility in the area of sexual education. Children should be taught the meaning of sexuality, and it is important that they learn to appreciate the human and moral values connected with it,” he added. “Parents have an obligation to inquire about the methods used for sexual education in order to verify that such an important and delicate topic is dealt with properly. Senate Bill 65 enables parents to fulfill their responsibilities in the development of their children as responsible and moral adults.”

Monica Boyer, founder and president of the Indiana Liberty Coalition, a pro-life, pro-family group located in northern Indiana, spoke in support of the bill. Boyer said her organization was contacted by a grandparent in Marshall County who said a school showed students a 30-minute YouTube video promoting same-sex attraction as normal, and that one’s gender identity can be chosen as part of sex education. Parents were not notified of the video in advance.

Rhonda Miller, education chair of the Indiana Liberty Coalition, shared some of the human sexuality curricula being taught in schools across Indiana. She referenced a flyer called “Making a Difference,” which offers an abstinence curriculum. However, the “abstinence” education lists explicit sexual activities as “abstinence.”

Other materials used in Indiana schools offer explicit definitions of sex acts. A pamphlet, “Making Proud Choices,” teaches students how to use contraception and provides students games and methods for doing so. Miller said some sex education handbooks being used suggest students “role-play sexual encounters.” For these reasons, Miller urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 65 to “give parents a voice.”

Micah Clark, director of the American Family Association of Indiana, a pro-family organization based in Indianapolis, said in the 27 years he has been an advocate for families, he has received dozens of calls from parents about schools delivering material of a sexual nature which conflicted with their values without their knowledge or consent.

“This is nothing more than a ‘parents right to know’ bill,” Clark said. “They have a right to know about material being presented on this sensitive topic beforehand.”

Reps. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, and Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, former educators who serve on the House Education Committee, raised concerns about “opt in,” saying they preferred the “opt out” method. Smith said he felt the bill would hurt more students than it would help, and worried about children in sexual abuse situations.

Current law allows parents to request an “opt out” of sex education. Parents may request sex education curriculum be provided to them, and have their child removed from the class. Indiana law also does not specify what may or may not be covered in sex education classes, and there is no requirement to alert parents that such material will be taught. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) officials said most schools do inform parents. IDOE has not taken a position on Senate Bill 65.

Dr. Mary McAteer, a board certified pediatrician, represented the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics while testifying in opposition to the bill. She said she had concerns about the written consent portion of the bill. McAteer said while the academy agrees that parents should be fully informed, she called the “opt in” burdensome for families who are in “chaotic circumstances.”

Members of various public school groups, including the Indiana State Teachers Association, opposed the bill, saying they think the “opt out” method that is practiced is currently working.

The House panel decided to hold the bill for at least another week to allow further discussion and possible amendments.

For more information on the legislative efforts of the ICC, go to www.indianacc.org.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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