PHOENIX — A conservative Arizona Republican senator who was pushing a contentious proposal that would bar any sexual education instruction for students before the 7th grade and create new requirements for the subject conceded Tuesday that her proposal stood no chance of advancing.
Sen. Sylvia Allen told a large group of parents and other opponents of current state sex ed rules gathered at the Capitol that she wasn't giving up. She said liberal opponents had succeeded in sidelining her measure even among fellow Republicans by falsely claiming it would ban any mention of homosexuality.
“Because it’s tainted, it has a label on it now and people are backing away,” Allen said. “Oh, we can’t support something if the perception is it is anti-gay.”
The proposal initially set off a firestorm of criticism because it barred even the mention of homosexuality, although Allen pulled that provision last week, saying it was being misinterpreted. The state Legislature repealed a 1991 law last year that had barred HIV and AIDS instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” and LGBTQ groups were on the watch for a reaction from conservatives.
Allen said her proposal was intended to give parents more access and transparency about sex education classes so they could make informed decisions about the health and welfare of their children.
Besides banning classes for those under 7th grade, the proposal required any course to focus on abstinence, tightened parental notification requirements, created a complaint system for parents and allowed them to sue if they thought a school or district was sidestepping state law.
Arizona already allows parents great say in what sex education their children have, from reviewing materials to opting their children out of classes altogether. But Allen said that wasn't enough, saying some districts were ignoring notification rules and that some children were being ostracized if their parents didn't want them to receive the instruction.
She told reporters the bill was dead, but vowed not to give up. “There can be more bills introduced and there will be,” Allen said.
Two Democratic senators and a number of medical providers, LGBTQ rights supporters and other groups held a news conference to voice opposition to Allen's proposal shortly after she rallied supporters.
Sen. Victoria Steele said Allen's proposal was much more nefarious that she acknowledged.
“That bill is a deliberate and manipulative attempt to remove all sex education in our schools,” Steele said, “That bill severely limits sex education for all from our schools by teaching abstinence only. It allows parents to sue the school districts, essentially making it so no school would even think of having sex education offered to their students because of a risk of lawsuits.”
“Thus it would eliminate this lifesaving information and knowledge for our kids,” Steel said,
Steele said because Arizona parents already can easily pull their kids from class, the bill isn't about allowing them to control their own children's education.
“It’s about preventing other peoples’ children from lifesaving information,” she said. “That is dangerous, and it is wrong.”
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has declined to directly weigh in on the proposal. But in an interview with The Associated Press last week, he said he said he and his wife were comfortable with the curriculum their three boys were taught when they were in lower grades, and talked to them about it.
“I don’t know exactly what the problem is we’re trying to solve,” he said of Allen's proposal.
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