Proposed measure would mandate sex-ed

BOSTON —  Concerned parents and those who support explicit sex education alternated between applause and fierce outbursts in reaction to a Statehouse hearing on a proposed bill that would mandate health education — including sex education — for all Massachusetts public schools.

The crowd packed the room and spilled into the hallway while the Legislature’s joint Education Committee heard testimony on the bill, S. 102 and H. 1641, entitled “An Act to Provide Health Education in Schools.”

Opponents of the bill, many of them parents, contended that parents should be the primary educators on the issue of sex education and that the bill undermines parental authority. They said the bill was unnecessary and that the Legislature had usurped the power to make curricula decisions from the state Department of Education and local school committees. Some argued that Planned Parenthood and gay rights lobbyists were pushing the legislation because it would address “reproductive rights” and normalize all forms of sexual behavior.

Edward Saunders, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, testified that the MCC opposes the legislation because it creates a statewide mandate respecting sex education in the public schools.

“Parents have a legitimate concern that, as a result of the proposed new mandate, the delicate subject of sexuality will assume a one-size fits all dimension that fails to take the individual needs of their children into account, and that inculcates values and ideological perspectives foreign and even hostile to their own,” he said.

Additionally the bill does not clarify what rights will remain with respect to parental opt-out decisions. The legislation also sets certain standards that would be required before students could advance to the next grade, he continued.

“Children who do not participate in any of the lessons set forth in the Health Education Framework by virtue of parental opt-outs would not acquire the requisite ‘skills, competencies and knowledge’ and then seemingly could be denied passage to the next grade level,” he said.

The MCC does not oppose health education in general, he added.

“The broader subject of health education includes many topics unobjectionable in nature and vital in content,” he said.

Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, testified that the bill requires students to discuss sensitive issues at a very young age.

“Students will be led into classroom discussions about profound issues like abortion and birth control and treated like adults in spite of their age,” she said. “Information throughout the program will be dispensed indiscreetly with no regard for an individual child’s sensitivity or personal development. No one knows a child as well as his or her parents.”

Proponents of the bill said that information about sexually transmitted diseases, depression and obesity would allow students to make better decisions. Many wore stickers that said, “Heath education saves lives.”

“Comprehensive sex education helps young people make healthy decisions,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Alice Wolf, D-Cambridge.

Sarah Leonard, a senior at Natick High School, testified that her school already provides sex education, which allows her and other students to seek answers from reliable sources.

“The last thing you want to do is talk to your parents,” she said. “I’m blessed to have a very good relationship with my parents, but not everyone in my school does.”

Representatives from Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, American Heart Association and Children’s Hospital Boston also testified in support of the bill.

“A young child is innocent, and too much information can be desensitizing,” agreed Mary Connell, a mother from Wrentham, speaking to The Pilot outside the hearing room. “I think health education has the opposite effect that it is supposed to.”

Connell and other parents who attended said that the bill outlines how and when their children should learn about sex, which is the job of each parent, not the government.