Public (again) speaks out overwhelmingly against bill restricting sex ed

Of the 48 people who testified on a school accountability bill, most of them spoke against a section regarding who can teach sex ed.

The Senate Finance Committee on Friday morning heard about two hours of public testimony on House Bill 156, sponsored by Wasilla Republican Rep. Wes Keller, which would permit Alaska school districts to temporarily suspend their standardized testing programs.

This week, the Senate Education Committee added several amendments to the bill, including one that would only allow certified teachers under contract with a school to teach sex education, human reproduction and human sexuality.

The amendment came from Senate Education chairman Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, whose bill, Senate Bill 89, to ban abortion providers to teach sex ed in classrooms died in committee on Tuesday.

During Friday’s committee, Senate Finance adopted another amendment that extends the definition of a certified teacher to include a certified school counselor, school nurse or psychologist.

Nome Democrat Sen. Donny Olson said having practiced medicine in rural communities, he and other medical professionals were often asked to speak in classrooms about anatomy, pregnancy and diseases.

“Does this prohibit that health professional from going into the classroom and teaching that?” Olson asked.

“Only certified teachers, and with the amendment ­— teachers, principals, counselors, school nurses that are certified — can teach the materials in the school,” Sen. Dunleavy said.

“You raise a pretty good issue, and it’s something we can discuss and try to rectify. The goal here is to ensure that everything that is happening in the classroom regarding sex education has been vetted by a school board, materials have been adopted by a school board, the public has been notified so that they can weigh in to see what’s happening, so there are no surprises,” he added.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said while he supported the intent of that portion of the bill, he wondered “if we’re boxing ourselves in to make it economically inefficient.”

After brief committee discussion, finance co-chair Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, turned to public testimony.

Thirty-eight people spoke against the bill, including students, parents, educators and health professionals.

Many of them pointed to the state’s high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. They said a way to combat that is with medically accurate information. Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the state ranked number one for chlamydia.

Doug Koester, testifying from Homer, said he was teaching sexual health in a rural village less than 24 hours ago. He works for the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and was teaching sexual health with teen peer educators.

“The teachers, the parents, the administrators were so thankful that we came in and taught because they don’t have anyone else to teach it and they don’t want to have their teachers teach it,” Koester said.

He said parents are an important part of sex education.

“That’s the one thing we tell our students over and over again, that they need to look to their own parents and their own family values to get information about reproductive health and healthy relationships. Not all students have healthy home environments and cannot do that, so we also give presentations to parents and we open our curriculum to all parents and we do presentations for parents in our community who are concerned,” Koester added.

He said taking away the ability for his organization and peer educators to teach sexual health would be a great loss to students.

Six people who testified supported HB 156, applauding parental rights and pointing out that parents can teach sex ed. One caller was neutral and another caller, Tim Robinson, sarcastically supported the bill, saying, “I applaud Sen. Dunleavy for wasting our time one more time.”

The Senate Finance Committee adjourned after public testimony, taking no action on HB 156. The committee is scheduled to have another meeting at 2 p.m. today with several other bills also on its plate.

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

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