House Bill 579: Relating to Sex Education

House Bill 579: Relating to Sex Education
By Stephanie Gifford and Julianne Young

The sex education bill has been rewritten and is now House Bill 579 (H579). The new version replaces the previous draft (HB 414) and includes language that confirms some of our strongest objections. Parents who wish to maintain their legal rights and authority over the teaching of sexuality in the classroom need to contact the House Education Committee and ask them to vote NO.

1. Downgrading the role of the family
The biggest problem with this bill is the way it changes the legal standing and role of the family. The current language of our law (33-1608) states in part: “The legislature of the state of Idaho believes that the primary responsibility for family life and sex education, including moral responsibility, rests upon the home and the church and the schools can only complement and supplement those standards which are established in the family.” This bill would delete that firm statement and replace it with this: “The legislature of the state of Idaho acknowledges the importance of families in all aspects of their children’s education and promotes a strong school-home connection to support the implementation of sex education curriculum that respects community values and encourages family communication.”

Please read those two statements one more time. Do we believe that the role of the family in this area is to “support” the implementation of sex education curriculum? Do we want our children taught “community values” with legal preference given to those “community values” over the standards established in the family? Do we, as parents, relinquish our right to the “primary responsibility” of teaching our children about family life, sex education, and moral responsibility? If the answer to these questions is “no”, we must not allow the legal rights of parents and families to be weakened by this significant change in language.

2. Involvement of community groups
Current law (33-1610) states: “School districts shall involve parents and school district community groups in the planning, development, evaluation and revision” of sex education instruction. Subsection (4) of the new bill would change that wording to: “School districts shall involve families and community groups in the planning, development, evaluation and revision” of sex education instruction. This is a subtle but important change. By removing the qualifier of “school district” community groups, we are opening the door for groups outside the district to have an influence in this process. Which “community groups” will speak the loudest and have the most influence? Will it be the ACLU or Planned Parenthood? The latter is one such group that regularly makes it their business to involve themselves in the “planning, development, evaluation, and revision” of health and sex education curriculum. Since this language states that “School districts SHALL involve . . . community groups,” the “shall” gives school districts no latitude in declining to have these groups involved in local curriculum. Parents who do not believe that “community groups” should have an equal seat at the curriculum table with them will insist that the language of state law clearly recognizes their superior legal standing in this regard and will give school districts latitude to choose which, if any, community groups to involve.

3. Views of medical professionals
Subsection (3)(a) states that any program of instruction shall “be medically accurate according to published authorities on which medical professionals generally rely.” Unfortunately, in this day and age, that statement means very little and could be used to bring in any program of instruction. Most would agree that two undisputed “authorities” are the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both organizations fully embrace and advocate on behalf of gender identity, sexual orientation and other LGBT issues. If we look to their publications to guide our instruction, we may be justifying the adoption of courses that endorse the LGBT lifestyle. Yet, even within the medical community, there is properly conducted, time-tested research which shows that the positions of these professional associations are controversial. More sound language would require that any program of instruction shall be medically accurate according to time-tested and properly conducted medical research.

4. Standards and statute
This bill states in subsection (3)(b) that any program of instruction shall “adhere to the Idaho content standards for health education as established by the state board of education.” But what guidelines, if any, does the state board have to adhere to when adopting standards? State statute doesn’t offer much clarity. Section 33-1605 of Idaho Statute states: “In all school districts there shall be instruction in health and physical fitness, including effects of alcohol, stimulants, tobacco and narcotics on the human system.” In addition, H579 reaffirms that the definition of “sex education” (as presently stated in 33-1609) is the study of the anatomy and physiology of human reproduction. The extended definition from HB 414 regarding the development of healthy relationships is no longer included in H579, but it really doesn’t matter. That portion of instruction can (and currently is) covered under the general health standards. It seems that the state board of education can include virtually anything in the realm of health standards, given the vague language we’re dealing with in statute. This again leaves the door open to the adoption of standards and curriculum that may conflict with the values of local communities (such as Comprehensive Sexuality Education which is being pushed and adopted around the country). Given that fact, point number five increases in importance:

5. Parental notification
A fifth concern is found in subsection (5). Granted, this language is very similar to what is found in current statute, but it is still cause for concern. With such a sensitive topic as health and sex education, parents should be notified when this instruction is taking place so that they can be fully informed of what their children will be taught and decide whether or not it’s appropriate for their child. Maturity levels of children and individual family values vary greatly, and schools must respect that and inform parents. Even Washington State requires parental notification at least one month in advance of certain health education instruction. (See WAC 392-410-140 at The state of Utah goes a step further and requires parents to opt in to these classes by giving written consent in advance for their children to participate. ( Neither our existing state law nor the proposed law requires school districts to notify parents. An opt-in approach would guarantee that parents were informed and supportive of their children’s participation in sex education instruction. If changes are to be made to existing state law, Idaho’s parents have a right to require that the responsibility to inform parents and secure their approval rests squarely on the shoulders of the school.

Click here to read the H579.

If you wish to share concerns about this bill, please take a moment to email members of the House Education Committee and urge them to vote no on H579. Their email addresses are listed below. Writing “No on H579” in the subject line will help busy legislators to quickly receive your message.

Julie VanOrden
Patrick McDonald
Paul Shepherd
Judy Boyle
Lance Clow
Ron Mendive
Ryan Kerby
Don Cheatham
Paul Amador
Gayann DeMordaunt
Dorothy Moon
Scott Syme
Barbara Ehardt
Hy Kloc
John McCrostie
Sally Toone