House Bill 249 — What it says about Idahoan values

The newest educational reform bill proposed by Rep. Barbara Ehardt— which calls for an ‘opt-in’ option for class discussions about sex, gender, sexual identity, and other areas regarding peoples anatomy — has been aimed at “changing consent” to get “parents involved” according to Ehardt. House Bill 249, however, does not change consent, it limits informative discussions about politically divisive topics in public education. Ehardt, and her proponents, claim that the bill gets parents involved so that they can protect traditional/religious values. This oversimplification of her proposal misleads Idahoans and is the source of great distress among myself and my peers. Bill 249 does not establish a stronger link between parent involvement and student sex education, it instead, disfranchises the youth of Idaho from learning about real-world topics, many of which Ehardt is politically opposed to.

In Idaho, an ‘opt-out’ for sex education already exists, meaning that parents who wish to protect “traditional/religious” values already have an outlet to influence the information their child receives. The bill instead creates a required opt-in policy revealing that its purpose is not to expand parental involvement, but rather constrict civil discussion. I fear that the bill infringes on the little free speech children exercise within structured class discussions. Ehardt’s defense of the bill contradicts its very nature.

How can a bill that promises to protect educational involvement in topics regarding gender/sex also be one that restricts access to information and actively makes talking about sex in school harder? Regardless of personal beliefs, the discussion of safe sex- and its associated topics- is vital to establishing strong public health initiatives. If students do not get information about sex within schools then they will simply acquire the information organically elsewhere. House Bill 249 is a threat to the very information the youth in Idaho receive and has far greater repercussions in opening the door to similar bills that could target even more politically divisive topics. This bill eliminates the liberty of teachers, present and future, to create civil discussions about real topics.

The bill also targets sex education as a way to actively dismantle existing outlets for complex human-issue conversations. The core of the bill is to create barriers that stop the advancement of Idahoan youth from acquiring the vocabulary necessary to talk about sex. While the bill does not change what students are taught, it does limit how students are able to access information. It is nothing more than a fence made of text designed to prevent students from talking about vital topics that Ehardt considers to be uncouth.

The bill has already passed in the State House. If it passes in the Senate as well, I am afraid of what it may signify for the young people of Idaho. Do we prevent civil discussion within schools simply because we find these conversations apprehensive? Do we as modern citizens challenge the authority we give schools and in doing so show our children that we do not trust them to talk about their own bodies? Make no mistake, Bill 249 does not safeguard the rights of parents, it destroys the ability of the youth in this state to talk about themselves. By voting House Bill 249 into law, the leaders of Idaho would prove that they do not trust teachers, schools, institutionalized civil discourse, and most of all the youth of Idaho who will ultimately inherit this struggle.

Please, stand with me against those who would create invisible lines that divide our communities and our schools.

Owen Curtin

About Owen Curtin

Owen Curtin is a junior at Bishop Kelly High School in Boise.

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