Monday, November 2, 2009

Action alert: call your Assembly rep to vote YES on the Healthy Youth Act

The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the state Assembly to pass AB 458, the Healthy Youth Act. This bill would raise state standards for human growth and development curriculum (a.k.a sex ed) to a comprehensive sexuality education model which would be the educational link to make a positive, public health impact on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates. Comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that Wisconsin public school students get effective, age-appropriate and medically accurate information about reproduction, contraception and relationships. We've blogged before on why this issue is important.

“We know that parents are the best people to instill values in their children,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “But we should all agree that public schools should be in the business of teaching the facts about health and reproduction. The Healthy Youth Act would get us back to teaching students science-based facts. All teens, even those who choose abstinence, should know how their bodies work.”

There has been criticism of this bill that suggests it would override local control of school boards’ decisions about sex ed. To the contrary, this bill is far from a mandate. If passed, it would raise state standards on “human growth and development” curricula that is taught in the state. Local school boards can choose what ever curriculum they want, but if it fails to meet state standards, they can’t call it “human growth and development.” And if schools aren’t teaching students the facts, they have to send a letter to parents saying so. As with current law, any parent can opt their children out of whatever human growth and development lessons are being offered.

Comprehensive sexuality education is an important issue for civil libertarians. There are many curricula options that are effective and have a broad base of support from medical and educational advocacy organizations. But the Healthy Youth Act is also non-discriminatory and honors free speech. Specific provisions of the bill would require that sex ed be taught without bias in gender or sexual orientation. And rather than muzzling teachers in abstinence-only mandates, the Healthy Youth Act would let teachers answer students’ questions about reproduction with honesty and accuracy.

ACLU members are encouraged to call their legislators and ask them to vote “yes” on AB 458/SB 240 and pass the Healthy Youth Act in 2009 (find your legislators' contact info here). The ACLU of Wisconsin is a member of the Healthy Youth Alliance, a coalition supporting the bill. The Healthy Youth Alliance noted that there were 90 bill supporters in the Assembly Education Committee hearing (with 41 opponents registering or testifying) and 64 bill supporters at the Senate Education Committee hearing (with 26 opponents). Your phone calls, emails and registrations at hearings count!

There has been much press coverage on the issue and people are blogging about it:
The latest is a blog from the national Huffington Post making the case that students have a right to comprehensive sex ed.

Kids and Their Kids – opinion on the bill’s public health impact from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin’s legislative director Chris Taylor on the fightingbob blog.

Bill could lower Latina birth rates – Opinion from a Spanish-community educator in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Sex Ed Bill Gets Senate Hearing - Wisconsin Radio Network coverage with audio from Sen. Erpenbach, a Madison-area adolescent pediatrician, and anti-contraception advocates.

Lehman, Legislature Tackle Sex Ed When Abstinence Wasn’t Good Enough - Racine Post’s companion blog includes teen pregnancy and STI rates in Wisconsin as well as a rundown of what is being taught in Racine area schools.

Bill Would Rewrite Rules About Sex Ed - WI State Journal overview.

Human Growth Education Bill Creates Divisions – Eau Claire Telegram article overview with statements from Eau Claire area legislators.

Abstinence-only education not right for Wisconsin schools - Milwaukee Examiner opinion.

Wisconsin Sex Ed Bill Sparks Controversy – Isthmus overview with many pro and con advocates’ statements (bill has had a suggested amendment to allow greater access for parents to review curricula).

Bill Would Change Wisconsin Sex Education - Wausau FOX blog with Rep. Molepske statements.

Sex Education for Good Health - Opinion from a Milwaukee Public Schools staffer.

Jerks of the Week, Abstinence-Only Advocates - Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express recognizes both the Healthy Youth Act as well as the ex-felon voting rights issue the ACLU of Wisconsin is supporting.