Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lawmakers urge parents to be vigilant over sex education

After a controversial school funding bill sponsored by Todd Lippert (D) of the Minnesota House of Representatives passed earlier this year, requiring the state to develop a statewide curriculum for sexual education, the State Senate voted with a majority to deny the bill.

However, similar legislation could be put forth in the future, meaning that those who care about local representation when it comes to school curriculum have a few worries. “This is not an attack on one party or to promote another party, this is just getting together and deciding what’s best for our kids,” Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said during a discussion June 18.

The discussion was held at the Owatonna Library and was hosted by the Conservative Coalition of Owatonna. Both District 27A Rep. Bennett (R) and District 24A Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, were in attendance.

Bennett gave a lengthy presentation on the effects a similar bill as the one introduced could have on school curriculum moving forward, while also stressing the need for local control over education.

“Currently Minnesota law is pretty basic, and we leave sex education up to our local school districts,” Bennett said. “So, it’s up to the parents and the local school board, and the teachers and so on to decide what’s best for the kids in terms of sex education.” The current law does stipulate that sex education must include certain topics such as STDs and abstinence being taught against unplanned pregnancies.

The proposed law would have created a statewide curriculum when it comes to sex education. “What the comprehensive sex ed bill would require, would be medically accurate instructions that is age and developmentally appropriate on human anatomy, reproduction, sexual development, consent, bodily autonomy, and healthy relationships, including relationships involving diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,” Bennett explained.

Abstinence would also be touched upon, as would the relationship between substance abuse and sexual behavior and health. “Now when you read that on paper, that doesn’t sound really bad but, in my mind, as I study this, the devil is in the details, and you need to look at a number of things,” Bennett said. “We need to look at both who is behind it, what’s the agenda, what are they pushing, and what it looks like in other states because that shows us how it might look here, and we also need to look ahead at what this might become.”

“First of all, I believe frankly this is an assault on local control for our school districts,” Bennett said. “I believe sex education is a very personal and delicate subject and there’s a lot of opinions from parents on how they want that to be taught to their child and what they want their child exposed to and therefore I believe it belongs to be decided at a local level.”

Bennett explained that it is her opinion that parents, and teachers, and local school districts know their kids and students the best, and thus would have a better understanding on how to approach such a subject. “They also care about their kids the most, we might say at the state level that we care about kids, but your kids are much more important to you and I respect that, and I think as a state we need to respect that,” Bennett said.

She referred to statewide efforts to control education, especially sex education as “big box sex education.” Bennett compared the affect of big box stores on local hardware stores and services to that of statewide curriculum laws. “I don’t ever think sex education should be big box education.”

As a former teacher, Bennett is not against sex education in any way, but feels that local control is the best way for each district to decide on how to approach the subject.  “It’s got to be locally driven and it really should be addressed by parents,” Bennett said.

“I believe there’s a place for sex ed in our schools, I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach sex education at all, I think it’s important to teach the biology of sex and some of the basic things, I believe abstinence should be taught as the only 100% way to not get pregnant and not get a sexually transmitted disease, but we also probably do need to teach about contraception, and I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.

Bennett looked at other states which have passed similar laws and how that might indicate what a comprehensive statewide law such as this would look like in the future.  She singled out California’s statewide agenda, which includes teaching gender identity to kindergarteners.

“That really messes with a child’s head, and not every parent agrees that that should be taught to their child,” Bennett of this proposal. “What we put into their minds stays there.” Bennett used her experience of teaching children to explain that a young child can be impressionable.

She also talked about how states with these laws often require schools to explain and describe sexual practices including masturbation, which California wants taught to middle schoolers. “Why we need to teach that in our schools is beyond me,” Bennett said. “Are they trying to promote sex, or teach it?”

Rep. Petersburg also shared a few remarks on the subject. “One of the concerns I had with this bill was really looking at the fact that sexuality isn’t just physical, it’s emotional and social as well, and I’m concerned when bills like this are teaching things that are a little more controversial to impressionable kids,” Petersburg said.

“I actually do think that mandated sex education is more dangerous to kids whose parents aren’t involved than those whose parents are, because if they are involved then they can at least coach the child and give them direction, so I think we have to be real careful on how we do this,” Petersburg opined. “To me that’s where the challenge here is.”

Petersburg agreed with Bennett that the current system, which leaves it up to local school districts and parents to decide how they want sexual education to be taught to their students, is the best.

“Think back to the days when schools started,” Bennet said. “It was a group of parents that got together and said ‘hey let’s hire a teacher,’ and they had their one room school house, and they were actively involved in that, and gradually we’ve lost touch with that, and we need to get back involved.”

In conclusion, Bennett told those in attendance that parents concerned over this subject need to be vigilant, and that the 2020 election will be paramount to any future outcome of another possible bill like the one introduced by Rep. Lippert.

 

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