HELENA – The Montana Senate endorsed on Thursday a proposal popular with House Republicans to crack down on local school district sex education policies — a reaction to a contentious curriculum proposal last year in Helena.
House Bill 456 would require schools to notify parents in advance of sex education and receive the parent’s written consent before their child attends. The bill prohibits schools from using instruction materials from organizations that provide abortion services, and makes sure that parents can withdraw their children from sex education classes without penalizing the child for missing class.
Opponents on the losing side of a 27-23 initial vote in the chamber argued it interferes with local control, and pointed out parents can already opt-out of any sex education.
But supporters argued the measure is needed to make absolutely sure parents are involved in sex education.
“It gets right down to whose children are they? Do they belong to the state, or do they belong to the parents?” said Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls. “It’s time this body steps up to the plate and says enough is enough. We have to set the standard. Let mom and dad do it at home. Let grandma and grandpa do it, or whoever is the guardian.”
The measure follows uproar in Helena last year over a proposed sex education plan that resulted in several long public meetings and revisions before a proposal was finally adopted.
Sen. Ed Walker, carrying the measure in the Senate, argued sex education is an area of instruction that needs special rules that school boards must adhere to.
“The burden should be on the school, not the parents, when it comes to something so fundamental as this,” he said.
Opponents argued that the Montana Constitution grants school boards the authority to run their own affairs, and said the Legislature should not micromanage such issues.
“When you have controversies like this you work through them as best you can in the community,” said Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena.
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