House Minority leader Rep. Brian S. King (D-Salt Lake City) is leading efforts to change Utah’s sex ed law. On February 1st, he introduced House Bill (HB) 246 which would require health teachers to provide “comprehensive human sexuality education” in public schools in grade eight through twelfth.
Utah’s current law, passed in 1988, mandates medically-accurate sex education classes in schools but requires the stressing of abstinence-only instruction. The law stipulates that health education teachers cannot discuss intercourse nor positively discuss homosexuality. It also forbids any demonstration on how to use condoms and prohibits teachers from answering any student question in a way that conflicts with these content requirements.
HB 246 aims to fill this gap, requiring that the comprehensive human sexuality education curriculum include instruction on “developing safe and healthy relationships,” “increasing the use of condoms and other contraceptives,” and how to safely respond to sexual or physical violence. This bill removes the instruction prohibitions on homosexuality, sexual intercourse and contraceptive devices, and allows teachers to answer all students’ questions. Under HB 246, school districts, and the addition of charter school governing boards, would continue to determine and adopt the specific instruction materials used within their district.
Rep. King believes these changes are best for Utah students, arguing that “morals are taught at home, but we need the education taught in our schools, we need information that is accurate and is appropriate for the child.” HB 246 would keep the current opt-in standard, enabling parents the power to not sign the required consent form to receive comprehensive human sexuality instruction. While some lawmakers and the conservative Utah Eagle Forum are fighting against the bill, many current students welcome the changes and agree with the majority of Utah voters who believe that the state’s public schools should teach about the use of contraceptives.
King says he is happy that this bill has spurred important conversation on both sides, but admits that it may take years of repeated effort in order to pass a bill such as HB 246 given the make-up of the legislature; “We want to have a good dialogue. We need to educate people. We need to talk about the importance of doing this. We are going to be talking about this for a while.”