Arizona parents: You now must give your consent before your child can get any sex education in school.
Arizona legislators last session passed Senate Bill 1309, the "Parents Bill of Rights," which requires parental consent before their child can receive any sexual education in school. Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law in May. It takes effect Thursday.
The law also mandates Arizona schools to notify parents when materials regarding "sexuality" are presented in non-sex-education classes.
Here's what you need to know about the new law:
How will schools handle the change?
The Arizona Department of Education says it will be up to individual school district governing boards to implement the new law, though the department is notifying them of the change via mail.
In the Sunnyside Unified School District, for example, parents previously could "opt out" if they didn't want their children to be part of the sex-education classes. Now the district will send home forms to get parental consent to opt-in, district spokeswoman Monique Soria said.
An Arizona administrative regulation already requires parents to consent for their child to get sex education in elementary and middle school. Some schools and districts have used opt-in procedures for high schools even though the administrative rule did not require it.
The new law strengthens the administrative rule by including all grade levels and adds the component of parental notification when matters "about sexuality" are presented.
The conservative Center for Arizona Policy says the new law recognizes parents' "fundamental right" to direct the education and upbringing of their children.
From a technical standpoint, a law is much stronger than an administrative rule, said Deborah Sheasby, the center's legal counsel.
"It empowers parents because they are explicitly protected in state law," Sheasby said. "It's a common thing to obtain parental consent. I don't see this as being any greater burden than obtaining consent for a field trip."
Sheasby said she hopes parents pay attention to other rights listed in the new law - their right to review test results and receive report cards, among other things. The law also requires parental consent for children to get mental-health counseling at school, except in emergency situations.
Supporters have also lauded the bill for ensuring government does not intrude on parents' child rearing.
Language in the original bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, prohibited anyone under age 18 from seeking medical treatment, including getting tested and treated for a sexually transmitted disease, without parental consent. In the final version of the measure, the Legislature removed that provision, as well as a provision that would have required parental consent for contraceptive prescriptions. Gray did not return calls or e-mail seeking comment.
The Arizona PTA is "completely opposed" to 1309, says Michelle Steinberg, the group's legislative-issues chair. One concern is the requirement that parental notification is required for children to attend non-sex-education classes about sexuality.
"What does that even mean?" Steinberg asked. "When you are in a literature class reading Romeo and Juliet, do you need opt-ins? What worries me is that teachers will shy away from any curriculum that could be in question. It's a very broad statement."
Steinberg said the PTA supports comprehensive, medically accurate sex education that emphasizes disease prevention.
The law "is not a parents' rights piece of legislation. This bill in many ways puts up barriers to real parental involvement and real access."
Dr. Michelle McDonald, chief medical officer for the Pima County Health Department, worries the opt-in provision will create an extra level of paperwork that could get lost and deprive students of important health education.
"My concern, of course, is that this will lead to higher rates of teen pregnancy and STD transmission in young people in our community," she said.
She noted that Arizona has one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the nation. It ranks fourth, with 70 pregnancies per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19, according to the nonprofit Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. In 2005 there were 18,100 pregnancies among Arizonans ages 15 to 19, the council says.
The council's data also show Arizona ranking high for its rate of syphilis in young people - 16th in the country in reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis among Arizonans ages 15-19.
Sex education offered in Arizona schools
Public schools in Arizona are not required to teach sex education.
Most states in the country - 35 plus the District of Columbia - mandate that students learn about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, which causes AIDS, says the Guttmacher Institute, a national nonprofit organization that aims to advance sexual and reproductive health. Arizona does not.
Abstinence must be promoted in any sex-education program in Arizona schools that choose to offer one. A state administrative rule says schools offering sex education must also discuss the consequences of sexual activity, including the possibility of STDs and pregnancy.
State law says educators cannot promote a "homosexual lifestyle," portray "homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle," or "suggest that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex."
House Bill 2361, introduced by Rep, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, this year, would have required all school districts in Arizona to provide medically accurate and age-appropriate comprehensive sex education, including information about contraception, abstinence, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The bill failed.
"Unfortunately, Arizona teens aren't getting the information they need to make an informed decision to fight STDs and lower the rate of abortion, and at the same time, Arizona continues to rank last in the nation in education funding," Sinema wrote in an e-mail."
What other states do
Arizona is one of three states with a parental "consent required" or opt-in requirement for sex education, the Guttmacher Institute says. The other two are Utah and Nevada. Most states have an opt-out policy or law, Guttmacher Institute public-policy associate Elizabeth Nash said.
"Really the standard is opt-out," she said. "Parental consent just seems a lot more restrictive."
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.