Proposed opt-in sexual content bill sparks controversy

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BOISE — An Idaho Falls Republican has proposed a bill that would require parents or guardians to opt their children into any curriculum that contains sexual content.

Currently, parents are only given the option to opt out.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said she wants parents to have control over what their children are learning. You can read the bill here.

A driving factor behind the bill is the Reducing the Risk program.

Reducing the Risk is a federally funded curriculum designed by ETR Associates to help students delay having sex and learn how to prevent pregnancy and STDs if they choose to have sex, according to ETR.org. ETR Associates is a national non-profit that creates healthcare curriculum for educators and healthcare organizations.

Instructors from Idaho public health districts teach the program in the Gem State. School teachers do not present it.

“As I went through the (Reducing the Risk teacher manual) — it is so disturbing what is being taught,” Ehardt told EastIdahoNews.com.

Ehardt said the program goes against Idaho’s sex-ed statutes and parental rights. She said Reducing the Risk normalizes sexual activity among young people, normalizes anal and oral sex, contains explicit details regarding condom use and fails to establish abstinence as the goal for minors.

She voiced her concerns on Reducing the Risk on a YouTube talk show.

What’s in ‘Reducing the Risk’

Eastern Idaho Public Health Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program Coordinator Kaylene Craig said she teaches Reducing the Risk. She is currently teaching it in Ririe School District 252’s high school and junior high school.

EIPH spokeswoman Mimi Taylor said EIPH did get permission from Ririe School District’s school board before beginning teaching Reducing the Risk in the schools.

Craig said the curriculum is based on science-based evidence and abstinence.

“What we are talking about and learning is that abstinence is the best choice for a young person to protect them from pregnancy and STDs. And if they don’t choose that, then they need to do something to help protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs,” Craig said.

Craig said she works with each school district where she teaches Reducing the Risk to decide what parts of the program the districts will allow.

Bonneville Joint School District 93 Director of Instruction and Learning Jason Lords said Reducing the Risk was part of Hillcrest High School’s certified nurse’s assistant classes more than two years ago.

“The health department would come in, and they would meet with our principal (and) the teachers, and they went through Reducing the Risk, and the teachers said, ‘Here are the things that we want covered,'” Lords said.

One of Ehardt’s concerns is that the curriculum contains an explicit condom demonstration. She also said the program contains an exercise where students are told to find out how much condoms cost at each of the three locations. Once they complete the task, they are told to find a family planning clinic.

While both those things are in the curriculum, Craig said she’s never shown the demonstration or given the assignment.

“We work with the school districts, and that is not an assignment that I have ever done in any grade,” Craig said.

Sexualized content?

In an interview with EastIdahoNews.com, Ehardt referenced several excerpts from the Reducing the Risk teacher’s manual and student workbook she says normalizes sexual activity among youth and normalizes anal and oral sex.

She cited one passage that reads, “Lee and Lee have going out for three months and, although taking it slow, they’ve been getting closer to having sex. They’re sitting on the sofa together, kissing and touching.”

Craig said this and the other role-playing scenarios are used to teach students refusal skills and delaying skills, which lead to refusal.

“That’s exactly what makes it hard for a young person to say no when they didn’t want to become sexually active. It’s because they haven’t been taught how to say no. That’s why this is really important for them to learn refusal skills,” Craig said.

Another excerpt talks about monogamous relationships with a note saying, “This choice isn’t realistic for many teens because they tend to be involved in a series of relatively short-term relationships.”

Craig said that excerpt is actually a section of the teacher’s manual specifically for the instructor regarding HIV and STDs.

“I have never, ever said that to a student and read that line because that is under ‘Information for Teachers: Background information about HIV — Teacher’s Notes,'” she said.

Eastern Idaho Public Health, which administers the program in eastern Idaho, affirmed the health districts only have control over the curriculum that is taught to students in their own districts.

“What we do in (our) eight counties is under our purview,” Taylor said. “Different things might be going on elsewhere. But just because something is going on in another part of the state doesn’t mean we’re doing that here.”

How Reducing the Risk made it into Idaho schools

A conference call between Ehardt, the Department of Education, the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health and Welfare in July 2018 revealed local health districts were not requesting permission to teach Reducing the Risk from school district’s school boards, as required by Idaho law.

Idaho law requires school districts to involve parents and communities in any changes to sex education.

Department of Health and Welfare Division of Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch told Ehardt and others on the conference call that local public health districts were offering Reducing the Risk directly to health teachers and school principals.

Shaw-Tulloch said the Department of Health and Welfare is not subject to the same law that governs the Department of Education regarding sex education. She said it is up to the schools to decide whether or not to use the curriculum the Department of Health and Welfare provide.

“We do have separate roles and responsibilities between the Department of Education and Health and Welfare, and I know that under Title 33, Chapter 16, those are statutes that really apply to the Department of Education and govern education versus the Department of Health and Welfare,” Shaw-Tulloch said in the conference call.

But not everyone shares that interpretation.

“Having been a district superintendent … every curriculum decision needs to be run through the district level, aka the school boards,” former State Department of Education Chief Deputy Superintendent Peter Koehler said in the call.

Former District 93 school board member and State Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, said he believed the local health districts were violating the law if they didn’t go through the school boards. He claims the individual schools were also at fault if they didn’t request permission from their school boards to allow Reducing the Risk after being approached by the local health districts.

Ehardt’s proposed bill would address this issue by requiring “any instruction or presentation in sex education or sexuality” to comply with Idaho law. That includes guest instructors.

Her bill was sent to the Education Committee for its first reading Tuesday.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said: “Elke Shaw-Tulloch believed the Department of Health and Welfare was not subject to Idaho laws regarding sex education, because it was a federally-funded program taught by health district employees rather than teachers.”

This was inaccurate and has been corrected to: “Shaw-Tulloch said the Department of Health and Welfare is not subject to the same law that governs the Department of Education regarding sex education. She said it’s up to the schools to decide whether or not to use the curriculum the Department of Health and Welfare provide.”

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