Bill requires parents to ‘opt-in’ before students can learn sex ed

Alaska’s House Education Committee is considering a bill that would require parent permission before children can be taught sexual education and ban abortion service providers from teaching it in schools.

The committee heard testimony Monday morning from Senate Bill 89’s sponsor Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, and from the public.

The bill’s main components deal with parental rights, banning abortion providers in schools and physical examinations for teachers.

“It’s become a growing concern that parental rights are being infringed upon by both the federal government and the state government and that there are things occurring at the schools that a number of folks are agreeing less and less with. We have thousands and thousands of students that do not want to attend our neighborhood schools,” Dunleavy said during the hearing.

He said an increasing number of parents are choosing to homeschool their children in order to safeguard family values. Dunleavy said he wants to give parents the right to direct the educational upbringing of their children and reduce the migration of students out of public school.

SB 89 would allow parents to withdraw children from any activity, class or program, or standards-based or state-required tests.

Another main component prohibits school districts from contracting with an abortion services provider, like Planned Parenthood, and restricts an abortion services provider from teaching or providing teaching material on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.

Planned Parenthood provides instruction in 25 to 30 Alaska schools, according to Lacy Moran, Anchorage-based Alaska education manager for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, wondered how schools that have relied on getting materials or instructions from a certain organization would manage when being told they no longer can.

Dunleavy repeatedly said the bill does not prevent schools from teaching sexual education through other means, but it does establish an “opt-in” process for any instruction on human reproduction or sexual matters. A parent must be notified at least two weeks in advance and give written permission before a student can participate. Written permission is required before each and every lesson on human reproduction or sexual matters.

Dunleavy said it means “no surprises” for the parents.

“Parents have a right to know well in advanced what’s going to happen so they can make a decision if they want their child to be part of that activity,” he said.

Dunleavy noted that this aspect of the bill would put restrictions on schools, but “it’s a necessary burden.”

He said this portion of the bill excludes instruction on sexual abuse and sexual assault awareness and prevention, or on dating violence and abuse awareness and prevention. This education is required under the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, also known as Erin’s Law and Bree’s Law. The law allows parents to opt-out with written permission.

Another part of the SB 89 would prevent schools from paying the cost of physical examinations for teachers, said Dunleavy. A few committee members asked questions about this and Dunleavy said he’d have more clarifying information at the next hearing.

Public testimony on Monday, which largely focused on Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the schools, was split with 10 people in support of the bill and seven against. This was the committee’s second hearing on the bill. Public testimony, which is now closed, was also given at the first hearing.

SB 89 has already passed the Senate. House Education plans to take it up again on Wednesday and hear amendments. If it passes House Education, the bill’s next stop is House Health and Social Services.

Another bill — Senate Bill 191 also sponsored by Dunleavy — that bans abortion service providers from teaching in schools and imposes sanctions for violations is making its way through the Senate committee process. It passed Senate Education and its next committee of referral is Senate Judiciary.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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