PHOENIX – The Republican-controlled Legislature on Friday sent a contentious sex education bill that was previously vetoed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey back to his desk after it was stripped of language he objected to that would have prevented young children from being taught how to avoid or report sexual abuse.
The revised legislation still bars sex education instruction before 5th grade and requires greatly increased parental notifications, along with the current rule that parents opt-in for sex ed classes But it eliminated language requiring a double opt-in for discussions of sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV/AIDS issues in sex ed classes.
It also still requires notice and parental pre-approval for any discussion of sex-related material outside of sex ed classes. The broad requirement would block discussions of historic events that have a sexual component, like the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, considered the genesis of the modern gay rights movement, or even the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, without parental pre-approval.
Although the bill was stripped of provisions requiring the double opt-in for discussion touching on sexual orientation, Democrats say it still aims squarely at the LGBTQ community.
"This bill is plainly intended to target the LGBTQ students in our schools and will prevent teachers and administrators from creating safe and welcoming education environments for all students," Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said. “This ... is a sweeping bill that will attack the ability of teachers to speak about a wide variety of issues impacting all students.”
Republican backers said it was needed to give parents more say in the sex-related material their children are exposed to at school.
"It should be up to the parents to decide the best way and the right way to teach their children," Republican Rep. Gail Griffin said during Friday's House vote, where it passed along party lines. “Government should not interfere with a parent's right to teach his or her child in human sexuality.”
In his April 20 veto message, the governor called the prior legislation overly broad and vague and said it would have unintended consequences. He also said he was concerned the ban on sex education before 5th grade could put vulnerable children at risk by limiting sexual abuse prevention education.
At the same time, the Republican issued an executive order adopting some of the transparency portions of the measure, including requiring schools to post sex ed curriculum online and provide extensive notice of school board meetings where sex ed instructional materials are to be discussed or updated.
The version sent to the governor Friday puts those parental notifications provisions into law.
Arizona already has some of the most restrictive sex education laws in the country, with no requirement that schools teach the subject. It is one of just five states that require schools to get parents’ approval to take a sex ed class; most allow parents to opt out of instruction, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The legislation came two years after the Republican governor signed a repeal of a 1991 law banning HIV/AIDS instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle.” That bill emerged as the state faced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law that the Republican attorney general and Democratic schools chief refused to fight.
Arizona is among several Republican-led states where lawmakers considered similar changes to sex education this year. It comes amid other efforts pushing back on social changes, including legislation in several states to ban transgender athletes from competing on school teams of their identified sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group that tracks such legislation.