Parental rights bill stays alive, for now

While a bill that would have banned abortion providers in schools died in committee, the less controversial elements of the bill continue to live on.

Almost immediately after House Health and Social Services voted Senate Bill 89 down Tuesday night, bill sponsor Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, introduced amendments to House Bill 156 during Senate Education, which he chairs.

HB 156, sponsored by Wasilla Republican Rep. Wes Keller, permits Alaska school districts to temporarily suspend their standardized testing programs for the next two years.

“During the time of the break, state educators will work with local schools and districts along with concerned parents to develop an assessment plan for the state that looks closer at the needs of our unique districts,” Keller said during the Senate Education hearing Tuesday night.

The House approved the bill in a 22-17 vote Sunday. Senate Education is the bill’s first committee of referral; Senate Finance its second.

One of Dunleavy’s amendments included the parental rights portion of SB 89, but leaves out banning abortions providers from teaching sexual education in schools and the “opt-in” requirement.

“It would allow parents to opt out of standards-based assessments, activities, classes or programs,” said Dunleavy staff member Christa McDonald, speaking to the amendments during the hearing.

“It would also provide notice two weeks before sex education takes place, but it would not require written permission from a parent,” she added.

Another piece of SB 89 that got passed as an amendment to HB 156 concerned physical examinations for teachers. The amendment softens the language from, “A school district may not pay the cost of physical examinations for teachers” to, “A school district is not required to pay the cost of physical examinations for teachers.”

Over the phone on Wednesday, McDonald elaborated on the amendments.

She said when both education committees passed SB 89, they “didn’t have problems regarding parental rights. I think that’s something most people agree on. So that’s the portion we inserted into HB 156.”

“I think all components of the bill are not needed at this time,” said Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, over the phone on Wednesday.

“Parents have complete control over their student’s education. If there’s course content they disagree with, they can remove their student from that any time,” she said.

McDonald said parents should already have these rights, “but there’s just been a lot of confusion.”

She said Dunleavy’s office has received a lot of emails from parents on the matter, especially regarding standards-based assessments.

“This is just putting in statute those parents’ rights so that the districts have clear direction,” McDonald said.

The Senate Education Committee was scheduled to take public testimony on the committee substitute to HB 156, which included Dunleavy’s amendments, and consider passing it Wednesday night, said McDonald.

If the committee substitute for HB 156 were to pass Senate Education, it would need to also pass Senate Finance. If it were to get to the Senate floor and pass, the bill would have to go back to the House.

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

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