Gov. vetoes sex ed bill; issues Executive Order - AZEdNews
Sections    Friday March 31st, 2023

Gov. vetoes sex ed bill; issues Executive Order

Gov. Doug Ducey Gives His 2021 Arizona State Of The State Address Virtually On Jan. 11, 2021. Photo Courtesy Office Of The Arizona Governor

Update April 20, 2021: Today, Gov. Ducey issued an Executive Order that would require school districts to post sex education curricula online and in person for parents to review at least two weeks before any instruction is offered, after he vetoed Senate Bill 1456.

The Executive Order requires the State Board of Education to adopt the following requirements by June 30, 2021:

  • All meetings held for the purposes of reviewing and selecting the sex education course of study must be publicly noticed at least two weeks before occurring and be open to the public.
  • Any proposed sex education course of study must be available and accessible for review and public comment for at least sixty days before the governing board or governing body decides whether to approve that course of study.
  • At least two public hearings within the sixty-day period before the governing board or governing body approves any course of study must be conducted. 
  • Once a course of study has been approved, a school district or charter school shall make the sex education curricula available for parental review, both online and in-person at least two weeks before any instruction is offered. 
  • Any existing sex education course of study must be made available and accessible for review both online and in person.

Gov. Ducey called Senate Bill 1456 overly broad and vague, which could lead to unintended consequences, including concerns it could put vulnerable children at risk by limiting discussion around sexual abuse prevention.

Original story: The Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation today to Senate Bill 1456, which would require parents to opt in to sex education for their children with written permission, a significant change from the current opt-out procedure.

“In Arizona, sex ed is currently an opt-out program and it is not mandatory, so any district has a choice to offer it and if they do offer it parents have to have the opportunity to opt out of it,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations with Arizona School Boards Association.

“Also the curriculum has to be approved through a rigorous process that’s outlined by the State Board of Education. Senate Bill 1456 does a few things to change that,” Kotterman said.

“This bill would prohibit districts from offering sex education before the fifth grade, which I’m sure we’ll hear in committee, but I don’t think it’s super common practice to offer sex ed before fifth grade anyway,” said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.

Senate Bill 1456, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, also would require parents to be notified in advance of any learning materials or presentations regarding sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in courses other than formal sex education curricula.

“It changes it so parents have to be notified in advance or any instruction regarding gender identity or gender expression, which is a change to the bill, these aspects weren’t in it before,” said Sarah Jedlowski, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.

“If there’s any other discussion of those issues in any other context, it would arguably require the district or charter schools to get permission prior to, which sounds straightforward, but if you’re covering literature or the arts or a social issue in government class or whatever you could run afoul of that,” Kotterman said. “It’s pretty restrictive in that regard.”

AZEdNews’ Legislative Legit: SB 1456 has parents opt in to sex ed for their children

Video edited by Jacquelyn Gonzales/ AZEdNews

SB 1456 would also require schools to inform parents of their right to review those instructional materials and activities. It would also require parents to op in to instruction for their students on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

SB 1456 comes just two years after Legislators and Gov. Doug Ducey repealed a 28-year HIV/AIDS instruction law that prohibited discussing homosexuality during public schools’ HIV/AIDS instruction.

The law was repealed in April 2019 after Equality Arizona filed a lawsuit that March that challenged the previous law’s constitutionality and named the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction as a defendant. Read more here.

Related article:
Legislators, Gov. repeal HIV/AIDS instruction law

SB 1456 would also require schools to inform parents of their right to review those instructional materials and activities, and require schools to made sex ed criteria available for review at least two weeks before instruction is offered.

In addition, SB 1456 would require school districts and charter schools with sex ed curricula for students in grades seven through 12 have all meetings about the sex ed course be open to the public and announced two weeks before hand, make the sex ed course materials available to public review and comment  for at least 60 days before a governing board decision and hold two public hearings within the 60 day period before the governing board decision, and approved by the governing board.

Also, SB 1456 says a school district or charter school is not required to provide sex education instruction to students.

Members of Sex Education for a Change Coalition said SB1456 would create a longer process for approval of sex education curriculum, and they are concerned about requiring families to opt-in for their students to learn about sexual orientation and HIV, rather than the current opt-out system, in an interview with KJZZ 91.5 FM.

Instead, the group supports two bills developed with input from educators, parents and youths that promote age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education.

Arizona Capitol Television: Senate Education Committee Meeting 2/16/21

Updated at 3:41 p.m. – Senate Education Chair Sen. Paul Boyer said each person who has signed up to comment on a bill will be allowed to speak for 3 minutes.

SB 1456 will be the 11th bill discussed on the agenda today, Sen. Boyer said when describing the order in which bills would be discussed during the Senate Education Committee meeting today.

“A parent or guardian who is unhappy with their school’s sex ed can essentially opt their student out,” said Bridget Sharpe, the Arizona state director for the Human Rights Campaign, who spoke against SB 1456.

“The bill requires parental consent, not just for lessons but for all learning materials that touch on the subject of human sexuality,” Sharpe said.

“Comprehensive sex ed may contain information on a number of important subjects including communicating boundaries, identifying healthy relationships and understanding basic anatomy and physiology,” Sharpe said.

“It is unreasonable to require school districts to manage each perceived instance of human sexuality by active parental consent,” Sharpe said. “It’s clear that this bill intends to restrict student access to comprehensive and inclusive sex ed despite the wished of parents and guardians across the state.”

“The bill even requires additional parental consent for students to view materials related to HIV and AIDS. This is especially concerning given that education on the subject can reduce the stigma of those living with HIV and AIDS and help students develop and maintain safe behaviors,” Sharpe said.

“Requiring written permission from parents for students to view materials related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is unnecessarily restrictive,” Sharpe said.

“This bill limits families with nonbinary and transgender children, who are very much members of our State of Arizona and our citizens, this essentially tells them that they don’t exist and that’s very concerning,” Sharpe said.

Bernadette Gruber, urged senators to approve SB 1456.

‘The primary purpose of SB 1456 is to ensure parental rights,” Gruber said, noting that she was appointed to the Tucson Unified School District’s sex education advisory committee in 2016 and served on it for 3 1/2 years. “The reason I was compelled to be here today is that I witnessed first hand parental rights being deliberately violated time and time again. For example, language was manipulated to say material was just an update for objectives and scope and sequence, an attempt by the district to circumvent parental notification and input.”

“Parents pleaded with the district for a 60 day review and two public hearings as required but despite community outcry the district refused, choosing only to allow a 24-hour review window before voting as reported on in the Arizona Daily Star,” Gruber said.

“Under the parents bill of rights, parents have the access to all curriculum and the option to pull their children out of any curriculum or instructional material that they don’t want their child to participate in,” said Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales said.

The HIV section was put into law in 1991 after the devastation when peopple were getting sick and dying in the 1980s from HIV and AIDS, “so I think it’s important for us to point those out,” Sen. Gonzales said.

Sen. Christine Marsh said, “I may be the only one here who’s actually taught sex education, we don’t call it that it is about human growth and development. Fourth and fifth graders are learning things like hygiene and deoderant.”

“I’m very unnerved about the idea of not having anything younger for the simple reason that our kids are already living this,” Sen. Marsh said, noting that education about good touch and bad touch and healthy relationships starts earlier than fifth grade.

Sen. Marsh also noted that SB 1456‘s requirements that parents be notified in advance of any learning materials or presentations regarding sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in courses other than formal sex education curricula could stifle discussion in many classes including literature.

“Does that wipe out ‘Catcher in the Rye?’ Because a lot of kids will pick up that Holden Caulfield has something going on there,” Sen. Marsh said. “Does it rule out other pieces of great literature? That topic comes up in Great Gatsby as well, you may not actually believe that, but it does come up. Do I not get to talk about it? I’m really concerned.”

Geoff Esposito, who spoke on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said, he grew up and went to schools in the Chandler and Tempe area in the 1990s.

“While I was going there, part of our instruction was on our history of our local community,” Esposito said. ‘They could tell me why Coy Payne was a history making mayor as the first Black mayor in Arizona., but without an option under this bill you not tell me why Neal Giuliano made history in the same way as Mayor of Tempe in the 1990s.

“That distinction right there shows you how we are treating people differently based on their sexual orientation and why requiring an opt-in to talk about that in all instruction changes the way that we treat people based on who they are,” Esposito said.

“Making this huge bill over all of Arizona, takes away from regional areas and populations, said Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai during discussion of SB 1456.

“My concern with the bill making that blanket law is that folks in my district and the indigenous populations, we have culturally sensitive classes, we have classes that are taught in Navajo, and we infuse cultural teachings and traditions and it’s all gender based,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“For us to teach biology in Navajo there’s such things as a male and a female and we relate to the world as male and female. The sky, the sun is a male holy being and our father. And the mother earth is our mother. The water is a female, and insects are male and female. We identify and teach in Navajo, our indigenous language everything is male and female, everything is male and female in our language and we identify through clan and gender,” Sen. Peshlaki said.

“Language, culture and our populations are so diverse and beautiful, and to have this law put in place where maybe we can not talk about the sacred duties of the woman, we have ceremonies for out young women who go through puberty, and we note when a young woman becomes a woman through her first menstruation, and even the design of our dresses and our ceremonial wedding baskets, our pottery, our vases, they are teaching tools of the culture of the people and our traditions, where we come from out creation, First Woman, First Man, the first two spirit people,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“There’s all these teachings that somebody that has this understanding of this new law could come in and that could be taken away from us,” Sen. Peshlakai said. “There are processes in place to take care of these things. The parents have their bill of rights. For us, it teaches the difference between the uniqueness of our culture and traditions and our history and our existence in this world that is all intertwined.”

“This bill is really concerning to me,” Sen. Peshlakai said. “We’re just talking about the Western society’s, how the bureaucracy, and administration and education has come to be and how it is taught in our public schools. But people who don’t share the views and this type of society is not something that everybody has.”

Not all people have this view in society, Sen. Peshlaki said.

Donna Larson, spoke in support of SB 1456, and said if she had the opportunity to review what would have been covered in her son’s class, she could have voiced her concerns to the teacher about a lesson that made her son uncomfortable.

“Parents don’t shed their constitutional rights to the education and upbringing of their children according to current law when their child enters the school gates,” said Lisa Fink, a parent who spoke in support of SB 1456. “Parents must be notified by the schoolls about the learning materials and activities relating to sexuality, gender identity and expression in every course. Schools do not replace the loving care of parents, therefore it is reasonable for parents to have access to view the complete curriculum, not just the objectives, but the complete curriculum with adequate notice and provide written permission.”

In closing comments, Sen. Nancy Barto said, “This bill will restore the communication between the parent and the school before they opt-in.”

“At the very least, if we’re going to let this bill go through, please fix up some of this stuff so at the very least we can minimize the unintended consequences and not make our already our students who are already struggling so hard face even deeper consequences,” Sen. Marsh said.

Sen Sally Ann Gonzales said she agreed with Sen. Marsh.

“I feel that this bill is unnecessary. Schools are already doing this,” Sen. Gonzales said.

The parent bill of rights already give them this access,” Sen. Gonzales said. “I speak for children who are dealing with discrimination at our schools because they feel different than how they look.”

“It affects the populations differently because of the diversity of people in Arizona,” said Sen. Peshlakai. “Some of our children in these schools are raised by grandparents and they should be taught hygiene, and personal care, anatomy, physiology and these are things that we should consider – not everybody has parent at home.”

“The school districts in Arizona have done a great job. With more population, there’s more diversity. This is an instance where we should be inclusive of all people, and teaching science in schools and not just force our own belief system on folks,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“But I think for the most part, from what I hear from my school districts and my own children and my own grandchildren, they’re learning what they need to know to be prepared for the greater world,” Sen. Peshlakai said. “Yes, bullying and suicide is prevalent, I’ve heard of a 10-year-old committing suicide because of his body, and I think we need to be sensitive to our children and teach them what they need to know.”

On the request to speak system, more than 600 people are against this bill and 225 are for this bill, and “I think this is representative of what people think on this bill,” Sen. Peshlakai as she voted no on SB 1456.

The Senate Education Committee gave the bill a due pass recommendation with 5 ayes, 3 nays and and 0 not voting.