Sexual education restrictions detrimental to youth

Everyone’s favorite public school quagmire has once again resurfaced in Montana. The Montana House of Representatives passed HB 239, a bill that alters the state law regarding sexual education in schools, on February 6th. Afterwards it was sent to the Senate, where it is still awaiting action. Current law allows for parents to opt out of the class for their children, however, this law would require all students to have signed permission slips to attend the classes.

The bill was described by Rep. Liz Bangerter, R-Helena, as “[Allowing] me as the mother to choose how my children is (sic) taught about sex education” — a question reminiscent of George W. Bush’s timeless query, “Is our children learning?”

This is not the first time the Legislature has taken up this issue. A bill similar to HB 239 passed in the 2011 session, but it met the burning end of Governor Schweitzer’s veto iron. It can be guessed that under Governor Bullock, such a bill would meet a similar fate, though I must wonder if killing the bill would be nearly as cool without the branding iron.

There isn’t much to say in the argument that hasn’t been said many times before: States with abstinence-only curriculums report higher rates of teen pregnancy and STIs, teenagers still feel budding urges to get some nookie whether or not they are taught how to use condoms, and it is much safer to learn about these things from a licensed instructor than the perverted guy in class who just discovered internet porn.

Supporters of HB 239 have argued compulsory sexual education interferes with parents’ rights to choose the morality they wish to impart on their children. However, that same argument can be applied to the flip side of the coin: By restricting access to sexual education, their own morality is enforced on public schools at large. The urge teenagers feel to park the beef bus in taco town is not someone else’s morality, it’s God-given biology.

It all boils down to culture wars once again spilling into the education system, and students are the civilian casualties. To quote Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, “When people don’t get the proper information, we see things like high school kids getting syphilis, getting gonorrhea, and they are getting pregnant when they are 14.” Montana already struggles with a reputation for being a backwoods, hick state. Why should we make it worse with a law that would surely lead to fodder for episodes of “16 and Pregnant”?

In this grand plight of teaching children about sexual education, parents should involve themselves in the process instead of expecting the schools to teach their morality for them. Instead of shutting out discussion of sex altogether, why not have their own discussions with their children about sex and dating in addition to what is taught in schools?

Oh wait, I forgot, that’s the responsible thing to do.