New bill on sex education passes in Alaska Senate

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A bill to give parents more authority over sex education in Alaska schools passed the Alaska Senate Friday.

Senate Bill 89, introduced by Sen. Mike Dunleavy last spring, is framed as a “parental rights” bill; it would require parents’ permission before public school students have a sex education lesson, and allow parents to opt their kids out of sex ed and standardized testing.

But what’s drawn more controversy is that the measure would bar schools from using educational material from any “abortion services provider.” That includes Planned Parenthood, which says it currently provides education to over 2,000 Alaskan children.

The bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Cathy Giessel told reporters Monday it’s about protecting parents’ authority over their children’s education.

“To have special interests coming into the schools, many parents believe is inappropriate,” said Giessel. “If they wanted their children to receive materials and philosophy from Planned Parenthood, any parent could certainly take their child to a Planned Parenthood clinic, but it doesn’t belong in an institution where we’re providing a broad education for all of Alaska’s children.”

Before the Senate vote Friday, Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner called S.B. 89 a “bad bill” for a state with high rates of chlamydia, child sex abuse, and teen pregnancy.

“Many of us as parents want our children to be informed. We want them to know the scientific facts about disease, about reproduction…” said Gardner. “We want children to know facts about dating violence and risks and what are healthy relationships and what are the signs that a relationship is not healthy. That’s what we want for all children, I think.”

Gardner added an amendment Friday to clarify that S.B. 89 wouldn’t prevent schools teaching about dating violence and sexual abuse required under Erin’s Law, which passed last year.

And, content matter aside, Gardner argued that the bill violates the autonomy of local school districts.

“I believe it’s state overreach, it impairs local control, and it puts an unfunded mandate on school districts,” said Gardner, “and we’ve fought against these in other areas, too.”

Gardner also noted that parents can currently take their kids out of a school lesson or activity for any reason.

S.B. 89 passed the State Senate on reconsideration by a vote of 12-7. It goes now to the House.

In a piece of companion legislation, Senator Dunleavy also spelled out penalties;S.B. 191 says that teachers could be fired and even have their teaching licenses revoked for using materials from an organization like Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood said in a statement Friday that both SB 89 and SB 191 are “unconstitutional restrictions on the education available to communities across the state.”