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Discussion whether to revise state sex, health education standards stirs heated debate

Discussion whether to revise state sex, health education standards stirs heated debate

(Ferre Dollar, CNN)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The State School Board voted 12-2 Friday to begin revision of the state's health education standards, which one board member described as "primitive" while others expressed concerns that national sex education standards could infiltrate Utah's curriculum.

The state's elementary standards have not been updated since 1997 and the last revision of secondary school standards was in 2009. The standards do not reflect current dietary recommendations, cyberbullying, e-cigarettes and narcotics such as pink, a synthetic opioid connected to the overdose deaths of two Park City youths earlier this year.

While several board members acknowledged a need to update standards, others worried aloud that new standards would expand sex education in Utah schools to reflect national trends.

"Until I see that we're willing to step out on our own and actually create Utah standards, I can't support this," said Lisa Ellis, a state board vice-chairwoman.

In committee discussion on Thursday, board member Lisa Cummins said she is concerned how the revision would impact sex education in Utah schools.

"I know there are national comprehensive sexuality standards out there and I am not a fan of them. We talk about how we can’t get rid of Common Core, but I can certainly stop certain programs that are nationally out there from ... changing our value and belief systems,” Cummins said.

Board member Linda Hansen said the State School Board is responsible for Utah's educational standards.

"We don't have to put anything in them we don't want to put in them," Hansen said. "This is Utah. We are very conservative. I can't imagine we're going to put a ton of liberal stuff in our standards. It just isn't what we do."

Board member Scott Neilson acknowledged revising the standards opens up the possibility that they could be changed in ways he doesn't support, but he'd prefer to err on the side of providing students accurate and updated information.

"I'm a big proponent of teaching kids correct principles and letting them decide for themselves," he said.

The process for revision is legislatively prescribed and also spelled out in State School Board rules. Between research, writing the curriculum, a lengthy review and public comment process, it could be well over a year before the board votes on any revisions.

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