Senate President Karen Fann has blocked consideration – possibly permanently – of a bill to put new restrictions on sex education in public schools.
Karen Fann said the proposal by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, clearly needs work. The Prescott Republican noted even Allen conceded SB 1082 is not in the form she wants.
Fann said the sweeping proposal to both limit the grades where sex ed could be taught and provide more parental oversight is controversial and inappropriate for discussion at this time.
Fann said she and other legislative leaders are hoping for a quick session.
Part of the pressure on lawmakers is the primary election was moved up three weeks, to Aug. 4. And if legislators are in session until May or June, it leaves less time to campaign.
Controversies of sex education have emerged occasionally over the last 10 years in the Chandler Unified School District - most recently when it canceled sex education for fifth and sixth graders last November.
Fann said it may be necessary to prevent lengthy debate on divisive issues because of the short campaign season – which drew an angry reaction from Allen, who, at a rally with supporters, essentially accused Senate leaders of cowardice.
“Is government formed to protect you in these inalienable rights?’’ Allen said. “Or are we here just to say to you, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do this particular issue because it’s an election year’?’’
Despite Fann’s decision, Allen allowed parents unhappy with the current sex education laws to testify at the Education Committee she chairs.
Another group staged its own rally to not just oppose Allen’s measure but lend their support to SB 1120, which actually would move sex education programs in Arizona in the opposite direction. But this bill, too, likely is dead.
Sex ed is optional with school districts, allowing them to provide what is supposed to be age-appropriate instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Only students whose parents have opted in can participate.
Allen’s measure would bar sex ed before the seventh-grade, provide time for parents to see what materials would be used and spell out for the first time - instruction in AIDS and HIV could be taught only with parental permission and only at upper grades.
“Do we want to have our small, innocent little children sexually active?’’ Allen asked supporters.
She said her bill became “tainted’’ by controversy because of verbiage some believed would have barred teachers from ever mentioning homosexuality. Allen said it was not the intent and had planned to remove the section.
“I was acting, and so were all the parents working with me were acting, to protect parent’s rights and our children,’’ she said. “And we should have had the opportunity to debate the bill’’ on its merits and not on the perception of what it did.”
By this point, though, it was too late.
“People are backing away (saying) ‘Oh, we can’t support something the perception is anti-gay and so there was no choice but to hold this bill,’’ Allen said.
She also suggested schools, in teaching sex ed and other social and moral issues, were not being neutral.
“They should not be taking a perspective of the socialist, Marxist radical points of views out here, or not even the more radical views that might be on the Right,’’ she said. “They must be respectful of our parents and what children are learning and being directed from in their home.’’
Fann, however, said her main concern was avoiding certain hot-button issues she feared could take away needed attention from the necessary business.
“We’re going to try and keep this session as quickly as possible with the least amount of friction and create a bipartisan atmosphere so we can get through this session with civility,’’ she said.