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Utah State School Board split on bill intended to clarify what educators can teach on contraception

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Feb 8th, 2019 @ 9:05am

SALT LAKE CITY — Some State School Board members on Thursday questioned the need for HB71, which clarifies that educators can teach the facts about contraception, while others said clarity is needed because teachers fear saying the wrong thing will cost them their jobs.

Ultimately, the board took no position but may discuss the legislation further during its meeting on Friday.

Earlier this week, the bill stalled in the House Education Committee on a 6-6 vote. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, said he is considering whether to work further on the legislation.

HB71 states instruction on the "medical characteristics, effectiveness and limitations of contraceptive methods and devices" is allowed.

Board member Carol Lear encouraged the board to support the concept behind the bill because some public schoolteachers have expressed that teaching about contraception could be misconstrued by some as advocacy. State law and state school board rule expressly prohibits advocating the use of contraception.

Lear said she prefers that educators receive training than to place the guidance in state code but she feels differently about this issue because she's "heard from so many teachers for so long" that they fear disciplinary action or dismissal over inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

While state officials may train health educators on this issue, similar questions could pop up in other courses such as a literature course.

"I think there’s a lack of clarity," she said.

But others argued the line is clearly drawn in state law and school board rule and there is no need for SB71.

If teachers and administrators do not recognize the limitations, "then they’re not very well-trained," said board member Laura Belnap.

"The line is already drawn," she said.

Ward, who is family physician, said he fears that even though state code permits instruction on contraception, some teachers are nervous to use the curriculum over a lack of clarity.

The State School Board sets the health curriculum standard, which is abstinence based. Some schools offer an abstinence-only curriculum but those decisions are left to local control. Board of Education staff conduct regular teacher trainings statewide to familiarize health teachers with standards and regulations.

Marjorie Cortez

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