SALT LAKE CITY — Parents, grandparents and representatives of the Utah Eagle Forum, pro-family and anti-abortion groups addressed the Utah State Board of Education Thursday calling a new teacher guide for sex education “inappropriate” and “explicit.”
After the passage of new K-12 health standards in April, the first updates since 1997, the State School Board staff members developed instructional guides that address specific topics such as sex education.
Utah law allows teachers to respond to spontaneous student questions for the purposes of providing medically accurate data or correcting inaccurate or misleading information or comments made by students in class, the guide states.
The document, “Health Education, Answering commonly asked questions about sex education,” reminds teachers that if they are uncomfortable with the questions, they are not required to respond.
“Utah law prohibits teachers from answering questions concerning sexual techniques, including intricacies of sexual stimulation or erotic behavior. Some districts and charter schools may place additional restrictions on what may and may not be answered, and teachers must have a clear understanding of district and charter school policy regulating sex education instruction,” the guide states.
Robert Woods, a father of five children, four in public schools, said “it is disturbing as a parent to hear that these teachers are being encouraged to answer spontaneous questions about anal sex, oral sex, masturbation. Even though they say ‘Well, don’t get explicit,’ some of the suggested answers are very explicit.”
Yet in many cases, by simply defining the individual sexual practice, they are describing the technique.
–Gayle Ruzicka, president of Utah Eagle Forum
Woods added, “I don’t understand why the teacher can’t say ‘That’s outside our curriculum. Please ask your parents.’ ”
The school board accepted the public comment without responding and the guide was not on its agenda for action.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of Utah Eagle Forum, said it would be “inappropriate and embarrassing for all of us” for her to read from the guide.
“Yet, our children have to sit through these unexpected and embarrassing questions,” she said.
The guidelines say a teacher cannot answer a technique or how-to question, Ruzicka said.
“Yet in many cases, by simply defining the individual sexual practice, they are describing the technique,” she said.
Children who have questions should be encouraged to ask their parents or with parental permission, a nurse or school counselor, Ruzicka said. Then, other children don’t have to be exposed to their questions or the teachers’ answers, she said.
Others took issue with the suggested response to a question about abortion, calling it demeaning and medically inaccurate. Some audience members wore yellow T-shirts with pro-life slogans.
The question and answer state:
“What is an abortion? It is the spontaneous or medically induced removal of the contents of the uterus during pregnancy.”
The State School Board’s move to approve the new health standards culminated a nearly two-year process to update 22-year-old standards, which for the first time includes students in grades kindergarten through second grade.
The standards cover mental health and emotional health, substance abuse prevention, safety and disease prevention, nutrition, human development and health foundation, and protective factors of healthy self.
The updated standards stress sexual abstinence while allowing for the evaluation of various contraceptives as methods of preventing pregnancy, consistent with state code and HB71, passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year.
The legislation clarified that public school educators can teach about contraceptive methods and devices, as well as their effectiveness, limitations and risks, but may not advocate for their use.
State law and administrative rule allow those discussions about contraceptives, but some teachers testified to lawmakers that they wanted a clarifying measure in law to protect them if their instruction was mistakenly construed as advocacy.
Under Utah law, students may not participate in human sexuality education without parental permission, and parents have the option to opt their children out of any section of the curriculum.