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Conservative groups storm Utah school board to protest students asking ‘spontaneous questions’ about sex

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gayle Ruzicka, political activist and chair of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, is joined by supporters as they “storm” the state school board meeting on Thursday, September 5, 2019, during the public comment period . talk about their concerns about sex

Several conservative groups packed Thursday’s Utah Board of Education meeting to protest a state law that says teachers can answer “spontaneous questions” from students about sex.

One woman called the allowance “unreasonable and possibly graphic.” Another said it opens up an opportunity for educators to engage with “grossly irresponsible” material – and move away from discussions about abstinence. Several speakers worried about what might be taught about abortion.

“If a kid asks about oral sex or something explicit and the teacher responds, that doesn’t mean the other 30 kids want to hear it,” said Robert Woods, who has four boys in a public school. “Why can’t the teacher just say, ‘This is outside of our curriculum. Please ask your parents if you really want to know’?”

The demonstration was organized by the Utah Eagle Forum and Pro-Life Utah. Members of the two groups signed up for nearly every spot during the public comment period, emailing members of the state school board and carrying signs that read, “As you read this, a baby has been aborted.” One woman wore a T- Shirt with American flag. A man shouted “Amen”.

There were about 30 protesters filling the room, some standing on the sidewalks.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said they decided to comment after spotting a teacher’s guide on the Utah Board of Education’s website designed to help educators answer questions about sex to find your way.

State Code says, “Educators in Utah may respond to spontaneous questions from students to provide accurate data or to correct inaccurate or misleading information or comments made by students in sex education classes.” Their responses, it says, must continue to contact the state Hold law allowing for “abstinence-based” sex education program.

That means teachers need to promote celibacy as the most effective way to prevent pregnancy or STDs. They are forbidden from promoting “premarital or extramarital sexual activity” and are not allowed to talk about sexual techniques. And while contraceptive use can be debated, there can be no advocacy for it.

The guide Ruzicka found is dated October 2018 and falls under “Teacher Resources”. It contains frequently asked questions and recommends answers that educators can use to answer them.

“I can’t read most of the questions to you,” said Ruzicka. “That would be inappropriate and embarrassing for all of us.”

The list consists of 52 questions divided into the categories of diseases, puberty, menstruation and gender. Examples include: “What is a wet dream?” “What is oral and anal sex?” “Can girls get pregnant if they have sex standing up?” “Will I be a better lover if I have more partners? “What is masturbation?”

Many speakers were also excited by a question on the definition of abortion, which replied: “It is the spontaneous or medically induced removal of the contents of the uterus during pregnancy.”

Deanna Holland, the vice president of Pro-Life Utah, an anti-abortion group, said it was “unacceptable and medically inaccurate” and should instead be defined as “the intentional killing of an unborn child.”

She added, “Withholding information about abortion is tantamount to condoning it.”

Holland, a mother of five, said one of her daughters is in a seventh-grade health class and she doesn’t want her to hear these questions — which she believes could be asked at anytime and not just during the sex education session in Utah Parents have to “register” their children for this.

The protest came just months after the state school board finally approved a new set of guidelines for what Utah students should learn about sex. It was the first update in 20 years – but didn’t change focus from abstinence.

It also follows a new report from the Salt Lake County Department of Health that found teens are catching STDs at high rates, leading the director to say sex education isn’t working here.

“Teenagers need accurate, realistic, and comprehensive STD education—whether it’s at home, at school, at church, or anywhere else conducive to discussion,” Gary Edwards said last week.

But at Thursday’s Utah Board of Education meeting, parents argued they would like their children to have less information — or at least be encouraged to speak to their families if they have questions, rather than being told to tell their teachers ask.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gayle Ruzicka, political activist and chair of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, is joined by supporters as they “storm” the state school board meeting on Thursday, September 5, 2019, during the public comment period . talk about their concerns about sex

“For all these years, parents have enrolled their children in sex ed classes without being told the truth about what is being discussed,” Ruzicka said. “Most parents don’t want their children to be educated about these alternative sex practices.”

She asked the board members to circulate the list of frequently asked questions to all parents so that they are aware of the discussions. She also called on the Chamber to end the practice of allowing spontaneous questions, although this would require a change in the law.

The public comment period at school board meetings is usually limited to 10 minutes, but so many people signed up for Thursday that it was extended to 20 minutes. In addition, so many registered before the meeting that no more were allowed to be on the list of speakers. A note outside the doors warned that registrations for public comment were closed.

“We only have such a big place. And that’s only fair,” said CEO Mark Huntsman, telling one woman she couldn’t speak to the board because she wasn’t on the list.

Board members do not respond to public comments, so it’s unclear if they will take action based on the feedback. Several of the speakers also emailed Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

A standard version of the letter circulated by the Utah Eagle Forum read, “The worst thing is that if the parents ever find out, the children are already harmed.”

Clarification, Sep 5, 8:47 p.m. • Removed an ambiguous description for the conservative groups attending a Utah Board of Education Thursday.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2019/09/05/conservative-groups-storm/ Conservative groups storm Utah school board to protest students asking ‘spontaneous questions’ about sex

Joel McCord

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