Lawmakers push sex ed bill
ST. PAUL - Minnesota law has required schools to provide education on AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases since 1988, but some lawmakers believe schools need to do more.
Legislation sponsored by Representative Neva Walker, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senator Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, would provide age-appropriate, medically accurate education for students in grades 7 through 12. The bill calls for sex education that promotes abstinence and provides information about contraception.
"If you have a research-based, evidence-based program - which comprehensive sex education is - then all children in the state should be given this information so they can protect themselves," Pappas said.
Pappas said grim statistics on sexually transmitted diseases back her up.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nationally, one in four girls (ages 14 to 19) has a sexually transmitted disease. Recent data from the Minnesota Health Department shows STDs have steadily increased over the past 10 years. The data also indicates that adolescents and young adults accounted for a majority of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases reported in the state in 2007.
"We've got an epidemic out there," Pappas said. "How do we fight an epidemic? With information. These are serious illnesses that can lead to sterility."
Those who oppose the bill agree there's a problem, but disagree that sexuality should be talked about in public schools.
"Schools should be focusing on the three Rs," said Representative Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. "And I'm not talking about racism, recycling and reproduction. It should be reading, writing and arithmetic. We should be using classroom time not on these cultural issues, but on educational basics."
Garofalo added that the bill would mandate a statewide curriculum that would take away local control. "These matters should be left to local boards and parents to make a decision," he said.
Supporters of the bill say it specifically allows school districts to create their own curricula, and encourages parental participation in developing it. The bill also allows any parent to opt their child out of the program.
In the House, Representative Walker has tried to get a sex education bill passed since 2000, but the bill didn't get a hearing until last session. Even then, it was pulled from the education bill at the last minute once Governor Tim Pawlenty threatened to veto the entire bill because the sex education provision was in it. Pawlenty's office did not respond to requests for comments about his view of the bill this session.
Walker said that despite a recent University of Minnesota study, which found that 89 percent of parents in Minnesota support sex education in schools, she knows the bill's got a tough road politically.
"It's a social button pusher," said Walker. "We don't like to talk about sex, period. And when we talk about the precious vulnerable people, our children, it becomes more touchy. We want to believe young people will abstain. That's the goal. But unfortunately, that's not the case."
Walker and about 60 teens from across Minnesota held a recent rally at the state Capitol in support of the sex education bill.
Duluth resident Salisa Grand. 17, attended the rally.
"This is a really important thing kids need to learn," Grand said. "It's something we need for life. We're going to learn about these things anyway. So we should have accurate information in our schools."
Other critics of the bill include the Minnesota Family Council, an organization promoting traditional families. The council has lobbied against the sex education bill each year since 2000.
"Comprehensive sex education isn't healthy," Council President Tom Prichard said.
Prichard said sex education gives lip service to abstinence and promotes contraception and homosexuality.
"What [sex education] conveys is a relativistic view of sex," Prichard said. "With drug, alcohol and cigarettes, we don't tell kids to make their own decisions. We don't say, 'OK, do drugs, but use a clean needle.' It's not safe to use alcohol or drugs and the message is 'abstain.' Somehow, [sex educators] don't put sex in the same category."
Supporters say if the sex education bill does not become law this session, they will keep bringing it back until they find a more favorable political climate at the Capitol.