The House Education Committee Friday voted to send a new sex education bill out for potential amendments.
Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, is pushing the new bill. She said Hannah Gayle, a Boise State University student and single mother, approached her last year about updating Idaho’s sex education laws.
VanOrden, Gayle and BSU professor Sara Fry said House Bill 579 is designed to align Idaho’s 1970-era sex education law with more modern health education academic standards that were approved in 2017.
Gayle said she was researching sex education standards and laws as part of a school project for Fry. Gayle also said she remembers participating in only one high school sex education class, which focused on abstinence. Gayle said if more information is available, students might make different decisions and teen pregnancies could decrease.
“I need to be the change in order to help reduce teen pregnancy rates in Idaho,” Gayle said. “My professor, Dr. Fry, asked me to examine the root causes of teen pregnancy.”
The one-page bill consolidates several sections of Idaho law into one space and still allows local districts to set their own curriculum. The bill also requires any information taught be “medically accurate,” while encouraging a school-home partnership and allowing for any child to be excused from sex education if a parent or guardian signs a form.
However, some lawmakers, community members and religious leaders said the bill guts parental rights.
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Julie Lynde of the Family Policy Alliance of Idaho (formerly Cornerstone Family Alliance), said the new bill is “breathtaking in its attack” on the family and parents’ rights to direct their children’s education.
But Fry said the bill is necessary because the newer health standards don’t align with the 1970 law. Teaching sex education can be controversial, Fry said, and schools and teachers are reluctant to teach the subject due to the policy disagreements.
VanOrden said legislators have been bombarded with emails and phone calls surrounding the bill. In an unusual move, VanOrden voted against sending her own bill to the House floor with a recommendation it pass. Instead, she voted to send it out for amendments, saying additional rewrites are necessary. She also discussed adding a parental notification clause to the bill.
Although the bill’s prospects for passage are uncertain, several legislators thanked Gayle for sharing her story and pushing for change. That group included VanOrden, Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City.
“Thank you for your courage to be here,” Amador told Gayle. “It’s not often we see individuals take on important topic … who don’t work in the circle of the Capitol. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
Once a bill reaches the House floor for amendments, any representative may propose any amendment for any reason.