PHOENIX — House Speaker Russell Bowers charged Thursday that materials he believes are being used in sex education courses in Arizona schools “are grooming children to be sexualized.”
Bowers said that materials he saw in the presentation put on at a Gilbert charter school by Family Watch International have drawings of people engaged in sex acts. The speaker called the materials “a complete change” in how sex education has been taught for 40 years.
“I don’t need to sexualize children and tell them how to masturbate,” said the Mesa Republican. “It’s way beyond where we need to be.”
The comments come on the heels of the speaker, in that weekend meeting, charging that Kathy Hoffman, the state superintendent of public instruction, is promoting these kinds of changes.
“When Kathy Hoffman promotes this, I don’t have any question it’s about radicalizing children and their sexuality.”
Hoffman called the comments “abhorrent and reprehensible,” saying they have “no basis in reality.”
And Stefan Swiat, her press aide, said what Bowers does not understand is that the Department of Education has absolutely no control over the sex education curriculum in individual school districts. More to the point, he said the agency does not produce, nor does it have purview to review, the materials that appear to have angered the speaker.
“We have no idea what he’s talking about,” Swiat said. And Hoffman, a Democrat, accused Bowers of “amplifying conspiracy theories being pushed by known hate groups.”
Bowers, for his part, is sticking to his arguments.
“If the materials we saw in that presentation are what we’re using, then I’m not backing up,” he said.
The dispute has its roots in changes in sex education policies that Hoffman asked the Board of Education to review earlier this year.
Board members did repeal a requirement that sex-ed classes in Arizona “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.”
But what stirred things up was Hoffman subsequently asking the board to consider a proposal by Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, to remove language in board rules that now ban the teaching of “abnormal, deviant or unusual sex acts and practices” and replace that with a requirement that sex-ed instruction must be “medically and scientifically accurate.” Board members scrapped the plan after hearing hours of testimony in opposition.
Since that time, some groups have been seeking to rein in existing sex education programs that they consider improper. That led to the presentation in Gilbert that Bowers attended where he first called Hoffman a “radical” and lashed out more broadly at sex-ed programs.
On Thursday, Bowers gave somewhat conflicting answers on what he believes about sex education and how it should be taught.
He said that he supports what has been more traditional sex education classes. But then he suggested that maybe they’re not necessary at all.
“You know what? I have seven children,” he said. “I figured it out, my kids have figured it out.”
And Bowers said they’re not unique.
“Go to a kid in high school and say, ‘Do you know how sex happens, do you know what happens when you have sex?’ ” he said. “I’m betting most of them know. We don’t need to sexualize them in order to educate them.”
But are there teens who don’t know how to prevent pregnancy?
“Oh, please,” he responded.
The speaker also questioned efforts by some lawmakers to insert language into existing laws on sex education to require that information be “medically accurate.”
“Tell me how you determine it’s medically accurate,” Bowers responded.
“The lady from Duke University says, ‘Yeah, it’s medically accurate,’” he said. “Is that enough?”
Bowers acknowledged that it is local school boards that get to decide what’s in sex-ed programs, with Arizona requiring that parents actually opt in. But he charged that some districts are not properly informing parents about exactly what’s in those programs.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.