Local

Sex ed consent bill receives hearing

byChristine M. WilliamsSpecial to The Pilot
5/3/2013

BOSTON -- Parents who wish to teach their children about sexuality in accordance with Catholic teaching may find support in two bills that will receive a hearing on May 14 at 10 a.m.

Both HB333 and HB440 would change the current opt out system for sex education in public schools to that of opt in. No longer would parents need to worry that missing a slip of paper would automatically enroll their child in instruction on birth control, abortion and sexual behavior.

"These bills ensure that parents are fully informed and their rights are respected before their children are exposed to classroom instruction on the sensitive issues of sexuality education," the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) announced April 23. The conference, the public policy arm for the four bishops in Massachusetts, encouraged parents to contact their legislators and attend the hearing on the bills May 14.

"My history with elected officials is that they listen, and they particularly listen when a large number of people weigh in," James Driscoll, executive director of the MCC, told The Anchor. "Every voice counts."

Driscoll added that parents are the primary educators of their children. Conversations about sensitive issues surrounding sexuality should start at home. There, parents can tailor the information to each child in accordance with his or her maturity.

Kristian Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has supported the goal of these bills for years.

"The current status of opting the children out of sex education just doesn't work. The schools are notorious for not notifying parents. Children are notorious for not bringing the paperwork home to let parents know that graphic sex ed is going to be taught and they can opt their children out," he said.

Mineau added that even if parents receive notification, sometimes they are afraid opting out would put their child in a spotlight. Sexual education should be an elective, he said.

"I've never talked to a parent that didn't support it. Every parent I have ever come in contact with, when I explain it to them, they say, 'That makes all the sense in the world. Why don't we have this?'" he said.

He called the current curriculum in schools across the state "reprehensible" and said it exposes young children, even those in kindergarten, to "vile and graphic" information. Programs for older children sometimes promote sexual experimentation.

Both of the proposed parental consent bills amend the same statute -- Chapter 71, Section 32A of the Massachusetts General Laws -- and both are entitled "An Act regarding parental notification and consent." They employ similar language to make all sexuality education an elective, allow parents to monitor the content of such courses and permit school employees to conscientiously object to teaching on those topics.

Both bills require parental permission for instruction on sexual education, contraception, abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality, transgenderism and sex changes among other topics.

Both also mandate that parents be asked before their children are taught about non-traditional marriage and family constructs. Same-sex marriage advocates and others have argued that such a shift would prohibit classroom discussions about the state's legal definition of marriage and ignore the reality that many students are being raised in non-traditional families.

The second bill, HB440, also requires parental consent for student surveys about a wide range of topics, including sexual behavior, psychological problems, political affiliations and income.

Mineau also advised parents to be aware of a bill that would institute comprehensive sex education. The measure is hidden inside a comprehensive health education bill -- HB421.

"Certainly, we're all for health, but the Trojan horse in this thing is the sex ed program that's even more vile and graphic than what's currently being taught," he said.

Whatever happens with the pending legislation on sex education, Mineau encouraged parents to be involved in their local school board and parent teacher association.

"Find out what your children are being taught, particularly in health courses and any course involving human sexuality," he said. "We need to be proactive to protect our children."

Angie O'Grady, a Catholic mother of four who lives in Marston Mills, said she is concerned about sexuality education that is inappropriate and conflicts with her faith. She added that she has not always received adequate notice.

"You don't really hear about it until after the fact. I do ask my son about it, though," she said.

O'Grady added that she believes the best place for sex education is in the home and that schools should stick to general health topics.

For instructions on how to contact your elected representatives about the parental consent laws, visit the MCC's website at www.macatholic.org. A copy of all proposed amendments to state law can be found on the Massachusetts website at www.malegislature.gov/bills.