Imagine your child, in public school, learning that contracting HIV is God’s way of punishing promiscuity, or that contraceptives are harmful or cause abortions.
A bill heading to the state Senate, which makes changes to the state’s Healthy Youth Act, could broaden the scope of the resources teachers can use to educate middle-schoolers on sexual health, from the medically accurate with scientific backing to the patently false with a touch of the totally insane.
On Wednesday, House lawmakers changed who can determine which instructional materials are acceptable for classroom use, from “experts in the field of sexual health—” like the national Center for Disease Control, or the FDA— to “experts in the fields of any of the following: sexual health education, adolescent psychology, behavioral counseling, medicine, human anatomy, biology, ethics, or health education.”
So those experts could now include virtually anyone, like say Christian organization Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, or abstinence guru Pam Stenzel, who both have backgrounds in child psychology. (Focus on the Family, which espouses anti-marriage equality propaganda and promotes a “Christian worldview” has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
“This opens the door to folks like that to say what is good information to use,” says Elizabeth Finley, the communications director at Sexual Health Initiatives for Teens, or SHIFT NC. “Their information has questionable scientific backing and there’s a wide variety of speakers on these topics who give out inaccurate information. Currently, there are solid, well-respected standards for teachers to pull from in making their sexual health curricula.”
Additionally, the bill requires students in seventh through ninth grade to learn about sex trafficking prevention awareness, an important topic but one that Finley says doesn’t yet have a full body of research behind it. This makes it difficult to determine best practices to teach middle-schoolers about sex trafficking prevention in ways that are helpful rather than harmful.
The bill has broad support among conservative lawmakers who have been unhappy with the Healthy Youth Act since it was passed in 2009. The new language was introduced by Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance. Finley says the bill has a good chance of passing the Senate if lawmakers decide to debate it before they go home; it’s on the Senate calendar for Monday.