House Bill 363, sponsored by Representative Bill Wright (R-Holden), would ban teachers from telling students about different forms of contraceptives. According to the bill, school employees and volunteers could only use abstinence-only instructional material and teach "the importance of abstinence from sexual activity before marriage as the only sure method of preventing communicable disease and learn personal skills that encourage abstinence and fidelity."
Andrea McNeil, a health teacher at South Summit High School for 23 years said the current Utah law allows her to tell students how contraceptives work but she cannot advocate their use. If Bill 363 becomes law, McNeil said, it would take away students' ability to have their questions answered in a safe environment, and would deny them important information.
"People should not be frightened by factual information and having students be informed," McNeil said. "We are not encouraging sex by teaching about contraceptives, we are just giving needed information and I still stress the fact that contraceptives can fail and abstinence is the only sure form of safe sex. Student always, every year, raise their hands and ask questions about contraceptives. It would be very difficult if I would have to tell them that it was against the law for me to answer their questions."
Park City High School health teacher Gail McBride said that it is important to teach students about contraceptives in school because it is not something they should be trying to figure out "at the grocery store at 11 p.m."
"I approach it as something they may need to know about someday and there are things they need to be aware of," she said. "There is a value component that goes with teaching about contraceptives and parents will always be the primary source of sex education. I would think parents would rather have their kids learn about it in class and go home and discuss it with them and ask questions than just trying to find the information online and never approaching their parents about it."
All parents must sign a consent form to allow their children to take part in the sex education unit in health class. McBride said the current Utah law is the best of both worlds, offering contraceptive knowledge but only to those who want it.
McNeil said that it is the parent's job, not the teacher's, to teach children family values and morals and that the new bill is too restrictive.
"This new bill would make it easier for parents to interpret what we say to students as being against the law," she said. "Teachers can't afford to lose their jobs over this so they would probably back off completely."
In her 30 years of teaching in Utah, McBride said she has seen legislation like this before.
"This bill isn't going to go anywhere," McBride said. "The groups trying to change what we can teach come and go. Right now, everyone's needs are met and I think we have a good system and that parents realize that."
On Friday, House Bill 363 received a second reading in the House after receiving a favorable recommendation from the House Standing Committee. As of Tuesday, it had not been passed by the House.
Wright could not be reached for comment.