BOISE – A proposal to update Idaho’s nearly 50-year-old sex education law sparked too many concerns for lawmakers to advance the legislation on Friday.
Instead, the House Education Committee agreed the bill needs to be amended to better protect parental rights before allowing the full House to vote on it.
Rep. Julie VanOrden, chair of the House Education panel and sponsor of HB 579, said her committee has been flooded with emails and calls from parents across the state concerned the bill does not protect the parental right to teach their children about sex education. She agreed with the committee to send it to be amended.
“The importance of families is not what is at question here,” she said.
VanOrden’s one-page bill aligns Idaho’s 1970 sex education law with more recently updated health education standards. VanOrden agreed to push the legislation after Hannah Gayle – a single mother who attends Boise State University – approached her and asked her to update the law.
Currently, the law says families and the church are responsible for teaching students about family life and sex education, but schools can complement those teachings. There is no statewide mandate on what should be taught. Instead, It’s up to individual school districts to determine their own sex education curriculum.
However, a key feature in the law says sex education programs should provide information on controlling sex drive through self-discipline. It also says students should be taught the values they need to have while choosing a spouse.
“The program should focus upon helping youth acquire a background of ideals and standards and attitudes which will be of value to him now and later when he chooses a mate and establishes his own family,” the code reads.
The new proposal removes that language, as well as references to the church and morality, but maintains sex education programs should respect community values.
“The legislature of the state of Idaho acknowledges the importance of families in all aspects of their children’s education and promotes a strong school-home connection to support the implementation of sex education curriculum that respects community values and encourages family communication,” the bill’s new language reads.
However, some lawmakers said the bill should be tweaked to better protect parental rights after listening to testimony during Friday’s hearing.
“This is a breathtaking attack on families,” said Julie Lynde of the Family Policy Alliance of Idaho, while testifying against the bill. “Removing language in prior code sets back parental rights.”
Paul Thompson, a pastor who traveled from Twin Falls to testify, said he was shocked to see the words “miracle of life” and “morality” removed from the new proposal.
“Do we want to be to pass on to the next generation that these values that we hold dear are antiquated?” he asked.
After a failed attempt by Democratic lawmakers to pass the bill as written, the panel agreed to send the bill to be amended. It’s unclear what exact changes will be made and if those changes will get done before the end of the session.