Statehouse roundup, 2.9.23: Senate committee introduces bill to restrict sex education

Calling it a “preventative” step, a North Idaho senator is pushing a bill to prohibit sex education before fifth grade.

The Senate Education Committee introduced Sen. Ben Toews’ bill Thursday afternoon — a vote that could set the stage for a full committee hearing at a later date.

Sen. Ben Toews

Schools generally don’t address sex education before fifth grade, and that discussion focuses on basic anatomy, Toews, R-Coeur d’Alene, said during a brief committee hearing.

And while Toews didn’t want to suggest that there are widespread problems in elementary school, he also wanted to ward off the “proliferation” of content that isn’t suitable for grade-school students.

“The goal is to protect the innocence of our children in the most formative years of their life,” the bill’s statement of purpose reads.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher, said she believes state academic standards adequately set the ground rules for local sex ed curriculum.

“I guess I don’t feel like this (bill) is needed,” said Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

The committee voted to print the bill, with only Ward-Engelking voting no.

House Education swiftly introduces four bills

In a series of unanimous votes, the House Education Committee quickly introduced four bills Thursday morning.

Here’s a look at the four bills, which could come back to the committee for a full hearing at a later date:

Charter flexibility. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, presented a bill to provide more flexibility for districts and charter schools.

The bill would allow school districts to authorize virtual charter schools, which is currently prohibited in Idaho Code. It would also allow charter school authorizers to consider the makeup of a school — specifically if the school is geared toward at-risk populations — throughout the certification and re-certification process.

And the legislation clarifies that contracts that allow an educational services provider (a nonprofit or for-profit organization that provides educational resources and support) to forgive the debt of a virtual charter school are “beneficial,” and will be considered a strength during the charter application process. Under the legislation, an educational services provider must charge a charter school a fee.

School on Election Day. Rep. Greg Lanting brought forward a bill from the secretary of state’s office, which could change how school districts operate on election days.

A middle school principal, Lanting said he has heard concerns about student safety in schools used as polling places. Some security precautions have to be abandoned to let voters come and go for 12 hours straight. And while some counties have churches or community centers with the adequate capacity and compliance for polling places, schools are the only sensible choice in other communities, Lanting said. According to the bill, schools are the most common polling location in Idaho.

Under the legislation, in-person instruction would be canceled on the May and November election dates, which would remove students from the premises. Districts could opt to hold class virtually, or host other education-related activities like professional development for teachers or personnel training.

For the March and August election dates, school boards could choose to cancel or move classes online, or continue with the school day as usual.

Employee abuse. Rep. Chris Mathias presented a bill that aims to protect public school employees from abuse.

Currently, anyone who abuses a school teacher in the presence of a student can be charged with a misdemeanor under Idaho Code. Mathias’ bill would extend that protection to all public school employees, including classified staff and administrators. The bill also supplies a definition of abuse, to clarify what Mathias called “vague” language.

The new definition reads: “To willfully and maliciously threaten, harass, coerce, or intimidate.”

In his introduction, Mathias cited the Legislature’s constitutional duty to provide a general, thorough and uniform system of public schools. Inherent in that duty, he said, is providing a safe school environment.

“And that environment is only possible when school employees can do their jobs safely, without fear,” Mathias told the committee.

Staff transfer. Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint, took the podium to bring forward a State Board of Education bill.

The legislation addresses a technicality state superintendent Debbie Critchfield mentioned during her budget presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. In 2020, the Legislature transferred 18 employees from the SDE to consolidate data management under the purview of the State Board. But three employees from the same team remained with the SDE.

The bill would transfer those three employees to the State Board to re-join the rest of their team. According to State Board spokesperson Mike Keckler, the team reports to the board but is still responsive to the needs of the SDE. Critchfield also supports the move, and wrote it into her budget.

Two other quick bill introductions in Senate Ed

In other business Thursday, Senate Education worked through two quick print hearings.

Here are thumbnails of the two bills, introduced on unanimous votes.

Registered apprenticeship programs. The State Board bill is designed to encourage a new “grow-your-own” teacher program — paid apprenticeships for aspiring educators still pursuing a bachelor’s degree. U.S. Department of Labor grants and local funding would likely pay for the apprenticeships; the State Board does not anticipate using state dollars for the programs.

CTE centers. This bill would allow school districts and charter schools to set up shared career-technical centers, serving multiple schools. These CTE centers would be eligible for increased state funding, provided that the schools attract at least 15% of their students from a second high school. The State Board and Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, have collaborated on the bill.






Kevin Richert and Sadie Dittenber

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday