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1:38 PM Wed, Nov. 21st

Sex education issues could roil Arizona Legislature

Are the proposals responsible education, or are they 'dangerous'?

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix; Josh Kredit

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix; Josh Kredit

PHOENIX - Arizona youngsters from kindergarten through high school would be taught sex education unless their parents specifically object under the terms of proposed legislation.

Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said too many youngsters grow up with misinformation or no information at all about sex. The result, he said, is a health crisis of both disease and unwanted pregnancy.

Separately, Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, is pushing to repeal a law that requires Arizona schools to portray homosexuality as anything but positive in their sex education courses.

But Josh Kredit, attorney for the Center for Arizona Policy, dismissed both measures as "dangerous."

"These are extreme proposals that are trying to mandate sex education for 5-year-olds,' he said.

And Kredit, whose organization insists that homosexuality is simply a behavior that can be "modified or even stopped," said there's no reason to remove the restrictions on teachings on the subject.

"I think that the policies we have in this state are good policies," he said.

"They've been vetted and been around for a number of years," Kredit continued. "And I think the proper protections are in place right now that parents appreciate them."

With Democrat sponsors, both bills face uncertain futures in the Republican-controlled Legislature. But if they get hearings they are bound to provoke spirited debate.

Mendez said the message that is now being pushed on children is one of abstinence as the acceptable method of preventing pregnancy and disease.

"But we have to prepare the other ones who are not going to listen to that message with age-appropriate, accurate information given to them by trained instructors," he said.

"We're leaving them to the risk of HIV, we're leaving them to the risk of pregnancy," Mendez said. "And it's our fault for not preparing them appropriately."

HB 2410 spells out what kinds of things must be included in sex-ed classes.

It does require teaching the benefits of delaying sexual activity. But it also says classes must "stress the importance of effectively using contraceptives and barrier methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and to protect against sexually transmitted infections."

Students also have to be taught about developing relationships based on mutual respect and "free from violence, coercion and intimidation." And it encourages students to communicate with the parents, other adults and health care professionals about their sexuality and intimate relations.

Kredit, however, focused on the fact that current law makes sex education optional for schools. More to the point, it is an "opt in' system requiring parents to affirmatively put their children into these classes.

"This is mandating 5-year-olds start having sex education," he said. "They're trying to pull a fast one on parents that may not even know what their child is learning about."

Mendez said Kredit was being alarmist in his concern about what those in kindergarten will be told.

He said his legislation requires instruction to be "age appropriate.' And what that means, Mendez said, could be as simple as answering questions about where babies come from.

Kredit said the question of sex education courses should be left to local control.

Yet he is opposed to SB 1019, which would leave the right of how to discuss sexual orientation to local school boards.

Current law says if schools offer sex education, they cannot do anything that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle.'

The same statute also forbids portraying it as a "positive alternative lifestyle." And it forbids teachers from saying that some methods of safe sex, which are permitted to be taught, are safe methods of homosexual sex.

Quezada said his bill, unlike HB 2410, does not mandate that schools offer sexual education.

But he said the restriction has created problems for school districts that want to offer sex education and are just not sure what they can - and cannot - say about homosexuality.

The result, he said, is lawyers have been telling school boards that the law precludes them from discussing the subject at all, "regardless of whether they were portraying it positively or negatively."

"That really left a big hole in the curriculum," Quezada said. "And it left a lot of kids in danger that they're not being taught some safe-sex methods."

CAP's web site includes an extensive section about homosexuality, including that there is "no scientific evidence" to show a genetic cause for sexual orientation.

"There are many documented cases of homosexuals modifying their behavior and becoming heterosexual through Christian ministries and counseling," the web site states. "This strengthens the case that homosexuality is a behavior based on choice, not on genetic fate."