Minn. lawmakers debate sex education

Published: Mar. 2, 2019 at 3:02 PM CST
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State lawmakers are wading back into the issue of sex education, with a bill that would instruct the Minn. Dept. of Education to create model sexual health curriculum that would then be offered to local school districts.

"This bill is about the health and safety of our youth, so we want to make sure youth have medically accurate information, that they’re working on skill-building relating to consent," Rep. Todd Lippert of Northfield told KARE.

Rep. Lippert, a freshman Democrat who is also a Congregational minister, is the lead author of the comprehensive sexual health education bill in the House.

"We know that comprehensive sexual health curricula do a good job of reducing unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and delaying the onset of sexual activity."

The bill would task the commissioner of education with crafting a medically accurate and age-appropriate model curriculum. It would have to cover human anatomy, reproduction and sexual development, as well as consent, bodily autonomy and healthy relationships of all kinds.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill was a freshman from Roseville Area High School named Ash, who said teachers struggle dealing with her gender identity.

"I identify as genderqueer non-binary panromantic asexual. None of these things have ever been taught in my health classes," Ash told legislators.

"My sex ed has been abstinence only. I have speakers come in because the teachers don’t know the topic, and they are not always informed about the topic."

Rep. Sondra Erickson, a Princeton Republican and retired teacher who has previously chaired the committee, brought up the issue of local control.

"This is a huge mandate and an intrusion into what different communities and different school districts value for their children!" Rep. Erickson told Rep. Lippert.

He responded that it's a model curriculum, so local school boards would have flexibility to tailor the information to their districts. Lippert also pointed out there's nothing in the bill that would prevent parents for exempting their children from those classes.

At one point in the discussion, Glencoe Republican Glenn Gruenhagen said the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States is proof that decades of sexual education in public schools hasn't worked.

"We know from research that children’s brain development to weigh the consequences of their actions isn’t fully developed until their 20s," Rep. Gruenhagen remarked.

"So when we give them this so-called comprehensive sex ed, I think we’re doing a disservice to them."

Sex education has long been a touchy subject at the State Capitol, especially around the issues of sexual orientation and gender identification. In fact, legislation like this often sits on the shelf without getting a hearing, let alone a vote.

In the wake of the Me-Too movement, and in response to a growing wave of sexual assaults on college campuses, DFL lawmakers wanted to put sex education and instruction about mutual consent back on the front burner.

"We want to make sure we are talking with young people about what is appropriate and what isn’t and giving them the tools that they need so we can have fewer and fewer of these situations in the future, less harassment and less sexual violence," Rep. Lippert explained.

The committee didn't take a vote on Lippert's bill, but laid it over for possible inclusion in a larger education policy bill that will get a vote later in the session.