The good and the bad of the amended so-called ‘Healthy Youth Act’
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – It was a case of good news/bad news Thursday as the House of Representatives passed the Healthy Youth Act, 62 to 52, but thankfully removed some of the sex ed bill’s most egregious aspects during two sessions before sending it to the Senate.
“This is still an unacceptable bill, but what happened Wednesday to amend the bill was good,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “I guess you could say what we were dealing with initially was a menacing anaconda, and now we’re facing a rattlesnake.”
The bill would offer parents a chance to enroll their seventh- through ninth-graders in Abstinence Until Marriage sex ed, Comprehensive sex ed or no sex ed at all. While the AUM curriculum, North Carolina’s standard since the mid-90s, gives information about various methods of birth control, it teaches that abstinence from sexual activity until marriage is the best means of avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. The Comprehensive “safe sex” curriculum focuses more on how to use contraception, includes information on topics such as abortion, masturbation and sexual orientation, and endorses a range of sexual activities that students may want to engage in.
Among the positive changes made to the bill was an amendment from sponsor Rep. Bob England (D-Rutherford) that would keep a student out of sex ed classes altogether until his parents signed and returned a form to indicate their choice. Prior to the amendment, Comprehensive Sex Ed would have supplanted Abstinence Until Marriage as the default class. England’s amendment essentially made “neither” the default.
An amendment from Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) would give parents or guardians the option of withdrawing a child from a sex ed class and choosing another option at any time. A more important change to the bill came from Rep. Bruce Goforth (D-Buncombe)’s amendment to delete the words “and long-term committed relationships” from next to “marriage” in a sentence describing what teachers will teach students to respect. The bill’s language would no longer put “long-term committed relationships” on an equal footing with marriage. This came after much debate in committee over the meanings of “long-term” and “committed.”
Rep. Cary Allred (R-Alamance) suggested that schools should give parents a chance to examine the curricula for both options before requiring them to select a tract for their children, another accepted amendment that should help parents avoid being caught by surprise by what their children are taught. Allred further suggested changing the name of the bill from the “Healthy Youth Act” to the “Parents’ Choice of Sex Education Act” to more accurately reflect what the bill does. However, this amendment failed, as did another suggestion from Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) who provided some sample pages of a Comprehensive sex ed curriculum and challenged fellow lawmakers to delve into the specifics that would be taught to children as young as 12 – information ranging from gender identity issues to the idea that legal abortions are safe and won’t affect future child-bearing.
As the debate continued Stam repeatedly challenged bill sponsors and supporters alike, many of whom continually referred to the state’s need for “comprehensive, medically accurate” curriculum to name one inaccuracy or one omission in the current Abstinence Until Marriage curriculum. None could.
Along the same lines, Rep. Dollar handed out copies of part of the current AUM curriculum so that lawmakers could see that medically accurate information on contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections is already being taught.
Dollar said what concerned him most is that the values are being taken out of sex ed legislation and that the concept of marriage is being eroded.
He cited the following statement that is being removed from the law: “Abstinence from sexual activity until marriage is the only certain means of avoiding out of wedlock pregnancy, sexual transmitted diseases ….and a mutually faithful monogamous heterosexual relationship in the context of marriage is the best lifelong means of avoiding diseases transmitted by sexual contact including AIDS and HIV.”
“Is that an incorrect statement?” he said. “Why are we taking that out of the law?”
Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) reminded legislators that school systems not satisfied with the current AUM curriculum could change to Comprehensive sex ed without passage of the Healthy Youth Act so long as they followed the public hearing procedure. In fact, roughly a dozen school systems have done so.
“Some sponsors of the bill want us to implement this and to essentially mandate something that right now can be decided on a community-by-community basis,” Tillis said. “I think what happens here is when you bring it up to the school board, you have the public hearings, and you go through this curriculum, then you have to make tough choices about what course content should be and what’s appropriate for that education unit.”
“We are not, by voting against this bill, taking the right away from any education unit from implementing this,” he added. “What we are doing is assuring that it is with the concurrence of the people with those communities and with the full view of what’s going on to be taught to our children.”
“If this bill passes the Senate, it will be more important than ever for parents to get informed about exactly what will be taught in each course before they have to sign the enrollment form,” said the Rev. Creech.
One advantage to the bill is that it will give parents in the 10 to 15 systems that now offer only Comprehensive sex ed the option of choosing Abstinence Until Marriage.
But, as Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Wake) pointed out during debate, what’s presented in sex ed classes is only a tiny fraction of what kids learn about sex.
“Our kids don’t get their sex education in school. Sorry. They get it in life, what they see in the home, whether its the activities of the adults around them, the TV shows that they’re allowed to watch, the movies that they’re allowed to go to and the music that they’re listening to,” Rep. Avila said. “Until we take the same attitude towards our children, learning the responsibilities that they owe their bodies with regard to sex that we want them to take with regard to smoking we are not going to see much of an improvement. We’ve told kids that smoking is bad for you, don’t do it. We’ve not allowed it to be shown in movies. We’ve not allowed it to be advertised in magazines and newspapers that they read. Yet everyday for hours on end they see adults and other teenagers their own ages portrayed in ways that reinforce everything that we try to tell them not to do in a health education class. Now you tell me which one of those is going to be the most important?”
“I think as responsible adults, we need to be looking at what we allow our children to see, what we permit them to be exposed to at every minute of their day,” she said. “Until we do that, sex education is going to be pointless.”