State amends sex education guidelines; chastity remains main focus of public schooling

Poll: Voters want comprehensive curriculum

Sex education curriculum in Utah’s public schools received its first update in two decades this week, but abstinence remains the key piece of advice teachers will stress to students – a fact that doesn’t jibe with what a majority of Utah voters would like to see transpire in classrooms, according to reports in Salt Lake City media.

The Salt Lake Tribune in a Wednesday, April 3 report said the Utah Legislature requires teachers to use “abstinence-based lessons that promote chastity as the most effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and the only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy.”

Teachers can touch on the use of contraception, said the Tribune, “but there are no expectations that they will, and many don’t.”

While lawmakers require the ultraconservative “just say no” approach to sex education, the Utah State Board of Education recently made a few minor changes to the revamped curriculum, such as switching the wording “including abstinence” to “stressing abstinence,” according to a second report in the Tribune published Tuesday, April 9.

Voters in a survey, however, overwhelmingly believe more than abstinence should be taught. According to the Tribune, 68 percent of registered voters want schools to provide comprehensive sex education, and the opinion crossed all demographics – political affiliation, gender, age group, level of education and religion – including “very active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah conducted the poll. Political affiliation appears to have played a role in the 25 percent of voters opposed to expanding the curriculum. According to the Tribune, four percent of Democrats were opposed while 35 percent of Republicans rejected expansion.

The survey polled 604 registered Utah voters and its margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.

Regardless of where parents stand on the issue, those with high and middle school students must “opt-in” their children to the sex education component of health class. If they don’t opt in, their children won’t take the class.

Meanwhile, new additions include a discussion on pornography addiction and the standards in one form or another for the first time include kindergarten through second grade.

The state school board worked diligently on the changes for two years, met on the issue more than 30 times to draft new rules, held six public hearings, and read more than 1,000 citizen comments, noted the Tribune.

The April 9 vote passed 12-3, with dissenters suggesting sex education should be taught at home, not in school, noted the newspaper.