If some über-conservative Utah legislators had their way, no public school child would learn anything about sexual health in the classroom. But, thanks to the Utah Department of Health and community groups from Brigham City to Moab, parents who want their children to learn accurate information from a professional have an alternative.
Comprehensive sex-ed classes are being funded by federal grants through health department officials, who see the results of ignorance about sex, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. The program is especially needed in Utah, as public schools are prohibited from providing detailed information.
Schools now focus on abstinence from sex before marriage. Teachers may include some basic information about the effectiveness of contraception and can answer questions about sexually transmitted diseases. But they cannot advocate for or demonstrate the use of contraception. If they overstep their strict bounds, they could be in trouble. The private classes help fill the gap.
Six community organizations from Box Elder to Grand counties will receive Personal Responsibility Education Program money provided through the Affordable Care Act to choose an evidence-based program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is insufficient evidence that abstinence education prevents teen pregnancy or STDs.
But a powerful lobby wants Utahns to believe otherwise. The Eagle Forum and Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, are pushing a bill to further restrict what schools can teach on the subject and to allow school districts to drop all sex education classes. Under HB363, only abstinence could be discussed and teachers could say nothing about contraception.
The health department classes, by contrast, are based on facts and reality. They follow the All4You! curriculum a 14-week class that includes lessons on STDs, pregnancy prevention, including condom-use demonstrations, and negotiation skills to help teens resist peer pressure. But they don't promote promiscuity, as legislators like Wright suggest. The instructors promote abstinence first, but provide the information teens need to be safe if they choose not to wait. And many do, whether or not they know how to stay safe.
Utah parents seem to understand that fact. Utah's largest school districts report that very few parents fewer than 1 percent in Granite for example choose to keep their children out of the bare-bones sex-ed classes public schools offer. It's a shame that a small but forceful minority would eliminate that choice.