HB71: Bill would clarify what Utah teachers can say about contraceptives

During the 2019 General Legislative Session, Utah lawmakers are considering a bill which would provide clarifications for health education teachers about what content is prohibited. (Mallory Jesperson)

A bill that would provide clarification about what teachers can say about contraceptives in Utah classrooms passed committee Feb. 19 and will be debated by the full House of Representatives next.

The wording of the bill, HB71, says health education would continue to “stress the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage” and prohibit “the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices.” Instruction would be allowed “to include information about the medical characteristics, effectiveness, and limitations of contraceptive methods or devices.”

In reference to contraceptive methods and devices, bill sponsor Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, said he believes it isn’t a teachers a place to advocate for such things, but that teachers often face uncertainty in determining what they are allowed to say or teach.

“Some teachers feel comfortable with the law as it stands but there are many who don’t — who look at the prohibition and are not sure what would constitute advocating there, and because of their uncertainty will sometimes choose to skip this unit altogether for fear of being accused of advocating,” Ward said.

According to Ward, the bill aims not to make changes but rather to provide clarifications for instructors.

“The point of the bill was to leave that prohibition clearly in place, but hopefully add a balancing line of code to clarify that if a (local education agency) has approved curriculum materials that includes this medical information, that to cover that information is acceptable,” Ward said.

According to Ward, if an institution has an abstinence-only curriculum, the bill would not overrule that decision.

Currently, teachers who have questions or concerns about the ramifications of teaching certain topics must consult their principal and possibly look for clarification from their school district’s subject matter expert in the health science field or curriculum director or a Utah State Board of Education subject matter specialist, according to Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan.

“So, if you’re in a smaller district, you go to your principal and then they may not have a lot of central office staff,” Johnson said. “So, it kind of can get bogged down.”

Kursten Mason, a teacher at a Utah charter school, said she felt teacher trainings should be revised to resolve clarification issues instead of altering the legislation.

“I feel that this is a training issue more than it is ‘let’s change the language and the law’ issue,” she said in opposition to the bill.

Dalane England, president of the Davis County chapter of the United Women’s Forum, said she believe the changes are an improvement, but still opposes the bill.

“I have some serious concerns about obviously changing what works,” she said. “Whenever we make a change in the law, there’s so many unintended consequences that happen.”

England said she believed the problem could be solved internally through changes to curriculum and training.

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