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Sex education in Utah schools already is optional, but a new bill would require parental consent before a student sets foot in class.
Ogden Republican Rep. Brad Dee's HB447 does not change the content of sex education courses. But schools would need written permission from parents before students could be instructed in topics of human sexuality including reproduction, childbirth, marriage, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
State school board policy already requires student to opt in to sex education classes, rather than simply allowing them to opt out. State Superintendent Brad Smith said Dee's legislation is intended to put that policy in state law.
"We believe parents should have the ability to control, particularly on sensitive topics, their children's participation," he said.
But some committee members questioned whether a new law is necessary when schools are already following state school board policy.
Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, described the bill as "redundant," since no schools or parents are reporting a problem with the current policy.
"I just don't see the point in it," she said.
And Marina Lowe, an attorney with the ACLU of Utah, suggested the bill's overly broad definition of human sexuality could interfere with instruction in other academic subjects.
She said the bill could be interpreted to require parental consent before an English class reads "The Scarlet Letter" or a biology class studies anatomy.
"I think this broadened definition is problematic," she said.
Dee said the bill is intended only for sex education courses and the language is specific enough to avoid bleeding into other subject areas.
"This is not dealing with literature or reading a book or teaching English or talking about instructional material," he said.
The committee voted along party lines to approve the bill. It now goes before the full House for consideration.