Utah Legislator Drafts Bill Requiring HIV/AIDS Education in Schools
Utah state Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D) has drafted a bill that would require public schools to teach HIV/AIDS prevention education, the Deseret Morning News reports. Currently, Utah's core health curriculum -- which dictates uniform standards for public schools -- includes prevention education on communicable diseases in all grade levels. The secondary curriculum "touches on" sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention information, according to the Morning News. Although parents must give consent for their children to attend the secondary curriculum classes, few parents opt to have their children excluded from the classes, according to Frank Wojtech, a health and physical education specialist in the state's Office of Education (Toomer-Cook/Collins, Deseret Morning News, 1/18). Education officials say that while most students are "getting the basics," the lessons vary by school and community because HIV/AIDS education is "inherently tied to human sexuality," the AP/KSL TV reports (AP/KSL TV, 1/18). State health officials "fear" that teenagers are not receiving proper HIV/AIDS education to prevent the spread of the disease. The education "varies from district to district and ... without a better term, the morality of the community," Wojtech said, adding, "Some teach to the very extent of the law, and others are quite limited." The bill -- which currently is in draft form and includes one line saying that schools must include HIV/AIDS education in health programs -- plans to "complement" the efforts already in place, Moss said, according to the Morning News. However, education officials are unsure if the bill would be able to make HIV/AIDS education uniform and comprehensive throughout the state. "It would be nice if every teacher were teaching exactly the same information ... so it wouldn't vary from one district to the next," Wojtech said. However, it is "unknown" whether or not individual communities will retain the right to edit sex education information, according to the Morning News.
Utah Sex Education History
About five years ago, in response to parents' complaints, lawmakers decided to give parents and communities control over sex education instruction. The state tried, unsuccessfully, to ban all discussion on contraception or other pregnancy and STD prevention methods, according to the Morning News. Lawmakers also failed to require teachers to privately answer students' questions on sex education topics. However, school boards, with parental involvement, were allowed to choose human sexuality materials that are stricter than state guidelines. Lawmakers also changed health teacher training, which once included updated information on disease transmission, teaching strategies, communication and self-esteem issues. When legislators about four years ago turned down federal grant money to prohibit schools from teaching a "racy" federally approved curriculum, they limited access to future federal money and left teachers confused on what could be taught in the classroom, according to the Morning News. "[A] lot of (teachers) are afraid to teach about HIV, although they have a curriculum in place," Lynn Meinor, the HIV prevention program manager in the state Department of Health, said, adding, "Some are uncomfortable or not sure what they can and can't say." Brett Moulding, state director of curriculum and instruction, says teacher training is not as "robust" as it used to be, but that teachers are instructed on what the law allows, according to the Morning News. And the state education office has renewed a health specialist position, which was eliminated when the federal grant was rejected, he said. Moulding added that Wojtech is "getting people right back up to speed on these things" (Deseret Morning News, 1/18).