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January 22. 2013 6:40PM

School adminstrators group: Making it easier to opt out of sex ed is a bad idea

CONCORD - The New Hampshire School Administrators Association weighed in Tuesday opposing proposed changes to state law that would make it easier for parents to keep their children out of sex education classes.

Mark Joyce, executive director of the association, said proposals for an easier way for parents to pull their children from sex education classes to which they object aren't necessary and could have unintended consequences.

"Virtually all school districts have policies outlining how any parent can object to anything," Joyce said. "Sex education curricula are publicly known and publicly approved during the curriculum adoption process. I know of no incident not ultimately resolved at the local level."

Two New Hampshire House bills would broaden the grounds for allowing parents to pull students out of some parts of sex education courses.

Parents currently can use two provisions in state law. One allows an exemption for religious reasons to classes in sex education or health. The other allows parents to pull a child from any course, but using that provision requires the parent to fund an alternative educational program.

Critics say the requirement for a religious-based objection means parents often must either lie about their religious practices or pay out-of-pocket for alternate classes.

Last week, lawmakers heard a plan to replace the religious objection with an exception for any reason, without the requirement that parents foot the bill for alternate education.

Tuesday, lawmakers heard House Bill 121, sponsored by Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, to extend the religious objection to include moral beliefs. Ladd said it would give parents who are not religious the same right to opt out of classes to which they object.

"Moral deals with a standard of what is good and right," Ladd said. "Dealing with standards of what is right and wrong are your moral convictions."

A long-time school principal, Ladd also asked that language in the bill referring to "units" of instruction be changed to "lessons" to make it clear that parents could keep a child out of specific segments of a course.

"When I was an administrator, I always worked with the parents of a child, " Ladd said. "We had an alternative lesson designed in the office with the parent and teacher present which met the qualifications based on the moral positions of the parent who wants to opt out."

Objections were also heard to the current extension of the opt-out privilege to health education classes.

George Reed, representing the Christian Science Committee on Publication for New Hampshire, said his religious faith requires objection to some health education classes.

"We prefer not to study diseases, this is contrary to our religious beliefs," Reed said. "The statute has worked out fine."

Joyce argued that extending the reasons that parents could use to opt out of a course would cause problems if a specific alternative has to be made for different objections.

"If I was teaching and had 80 to 100 students, there could have been any number of objections," Joyce said. "Alternatives may have to be different. How is that done in a pragmatic way without incurring substantial costs and disrupting education?"

Ladd maintained it is rare to hear an objection so strong that parents want their children kept out of a class.

"Very few will opt out of classes like the revolutionary war or mathematics unless they have a problem with the instructor," Ladd said. "In health and sex education, my history is, people are coming and dealing with the controversial issues."
The House Education Committee will now consider what, if any, legislation to recommend.

billsmith@unionleader.com


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