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The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana Senate Bill would require school boards to post information related to human sexual instruction

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An Indiana Senate Bill would require schools that teach human sexuality to have information related to its instruction approved by the school district’s governing body or equivalent and posted on the school's website. 

Senate Bill 128 would require the governing body of a school district or equivalent to approve various items related to human sexuality instruction annually including each grade level, course or class in which students will be taught human sexuality and all learning material used for instruction for each grade, class, or course.  

This information, along with a list of all approved learning materials on the subject, must be published by the school's governing authority in a visible place on the school's website before the start of each school year, according to the bill.  

Schools or employees would also be prohibited from using learning material not approved by the school's governing authority. The bill applies to public schools, charter schools and state accredited private schools. 

The bill was written by Sen. Gary Byrne (R-47), Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-27) and Sen. Chris Garten (R-45). Rep. Jake Teshka (R-7), Rep. Michelle Davis (R-58), Rep. Julie McGuire (R-93) and Rep. Joanna King (R-49) are sponsoring the bill.  

Sen. Byrne said in a statement over email that SB 128 is a simple bill respecting local control and parental rights. The bill, he said, requires local school boards to approve materials used in sexual education classes and increases transparency on what is being taught in these classes so parents can decide if they want their kids to be taught sexual education. 

“Indiana doesn't have state standards for sexual education, so teachers don't currently have a lot of direction on what to teach on this topic,” Bryne said in the statement. “As a former school board member, I think putting the elected local school board in the driver's seat on this issue makes sense." 

David Lohrmann, IU professor emeritus of applied health sciences, said, having the school board or governing authority vote on the approved materials and information each year is unusual.  

“It's like, you know, having to approve textbooks every year when they only do it every five years.” Lohrmann said. 

Lohrmann taught sex education in Michigan as a high school teacher in the 1970s and was later involved in creating sex education guidelines in Michigan in the late 1980s. He said Michigan requires an advisory committee to review, approve and make recommendations to school boards on instructional materials on sexuality education, then the school board must approve it.  

“So that's similar to what this statute’s requiring, but in Michigan they only had to approve it when there was a change.” Lohrmann said.  

Lohrmann believes another matter is that people know who the teachers are, as the bill would require the schools governing authority to approve each grade level, course or class human sexuality is taught and whether it is taught by a male or female instructor.  

Lohrmann said his school started their “Growing Up” program in the fifth grade and had sexuality education for students in sixth through eighth grade. He said during the sixth grade there would be quite a few parents at an evening event to meet teachers and ask questions, a few parents in the seventh grade, while in the eighth grade, no parents would attend. 

“Because you've established trust, never had to deal with whether it's a male and female teacher teaching it,” Lohrmann said. “But, you know, that would not be difficult to post on the website.” 

Different schools, he said, also approach instruction differently with some schools having a regular classroom teacher teach human sexuality, like in elementary schools. Others have the health education teacher teach the subject if it’s a separate course, like in a middle school. Sometimes schools may bring in someone from a community agency to provide all or part of the instruction. 

Copyrights on instructional materials, Lohrmann said, also come to mind. If the school uses a textbook, he said, is it enough to list the name of the textbook or scan the book and put it on the website. 

“If it's videos, do you just have the titles of the videos or do you have to somehow post the videos?” Lohrmann said, “And what about copyrights? You’re now putting it on the internet.”  

Lohrmann said the bill could have a positive impact on Indiana schools. When he was a teacher in Michigan, the state legislature wanted to revise the approval process and give parents more authority. The governor at the time, he said, involved experts instead and insisted that instruction needed to be scientifically accurate. But the law was also somewhat strengthened to require parental representation on review boards; which both school districts he worked in had.  

“But what happened, my understanding talking to folks in Michigan was actually, when parent involvement increased there was more comprehensive sex education was approved.” Lohrmann. 

According to a 2017 study from the National Library of Medicine, more than 93% of parents place a high importance on sex education in middle and high school. More than 89% of parents that identified as Republican or Democrat, according to the study, support a wide range of topics in sex education including puberty, healthy relationships, abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases and birth control in high school. In middle school, 78% or more of parents identified as Republican or Democrat support the inclusion of these topics. 

The contract Lohrmann said he had with parents was that the school would provide students with the information while the parents were responsible for family beliefs, values and behavioral expectations.  

“But the reality is, parents will come up and say, ‘Oh, we're so glad you're doing this because we don't know where to start, we're not comfortable,’” Lohrmann said. “Most parents don't have the talk with their kids and, you know, they're just glad that somebody's doing it, but they realize that kids need instruction on human sexuality.” 

According to a statement from Markay Winston, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at the Monroe County Community School Corporation, the district follows Indiana code when instructing human sexuality. This requires the school to send a letter home to parents 21 days in advance, before any instruction on human sexuality begins, allowing the parents to accept or decline the instruction. If the parent does not respond after 21 days, according to the statement, a second letter is sent home, and the parent has 10 days to respond. If there is no response after the two attempts, the teacher can give the instruction to students.  

If SB 128 passes, Winston said in a statement, the district will immediately comply and ensure all approved and required material will be posted on their website. 

The bill was referred to the Indiana House of Representatives on Feb. 6 and was referred to the House Committee on Education on Monday.  

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