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Could A New Bill Limit Student Access To Sex Education?

By Emily Forman, Side Effects Public Media | Published on in Education, Health, Statewide News

A potential law before the Indiana Senate would require written parental consent for sexual education in schools.

Critics say the bill would limit student access to evidence-based programming.

Only proponents of the bill — a stream of parents, former educators and an executive of the conservative political advocacy group Advance America — showed up to address the Committee on Education and Career Development Wednesday.

Advance America Founder Eric Miller said the bill is necessary to address a “loophole” in current legislation that allows parental access to instructional materials, but does not specify sexuality health instruction. Miller said this should be explicit.

The new bill would also require every parent to sign and return a permission slip before their child is allowed to take sex ed. “That way the parents, everybody, has buy in. Then everybody wins,” Miller said.

Tonja Eagan runs Social Health Association of Indiana, a school-based sex ed program that teaches abstinence as well as medically-based teen pregnancy and STD prevention. Eagan said the program reaches 25,000 students in 10 counties.

While she was not present to offer testimony, she’s worried this bill might end up leaving kids out of sex ed.

“You’re talking about a significant number of kids that won’t get medically accurate information about their sexuality health,” said Eagan.

Sexuality health education is not mandatory in Indiana, and by law any instructions students receive on the topic must also teach abstinence.

Eagan said students who receive a Social Health Association of Indiana curriculum also receive a permission slip that outlines the lesson plans. Parents only have to sign and return the slip if they don’t want their kid to participate. No response indicates approval. Eagan fears requiring written permission from everyone will exclude forgetful students who might misplace the form.

On the other hand, Miller said without a signed form there’s no way to ensure that parents ever saw it and had the opportunity to make a conscious decision.

A vote on the measure is expected next week.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.