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Indiana House panel drops opt-in requirement for sex education

February 20, 2018

An Indiana House committee considering changes to how sex education is taught in public schools rejected a proposed requirement Tuesday that would have forced parents to opt in to sex education classes for their children.

The House Education Committee decided to keep in place the current practice that allows parents to withdraw their children from sex education classes.

However, the new bill would make several changes, including requiring schools to make two attempts to notify parents of the sex education curriculum before the classes start, with a period of at least 45 days between the two attempts.

If a parent were to fail to reply to both attempts, his or her child would receive such lessons. But the opt-out option remains at all times.

The committee also removed from the bill references to sexual orientation and gender identity as course subjects about which parents must be notified.

"As we all know the language is very sensitive and I am not comfortable including that," said Rep. Timothy Wesco, a Republican from Osceola who sponsored the bill.

The committee members voted 8-5 to advance the bill to the full House for consideration. The state Senate voted 37-12 last month in favor of the bill with the opt-in requirement included.

Republican Rep. Ed Clere, of New Albany, proposed an amendment to allow teachers to allow spontaneous discussion or treatment of topics arising from approved curriculum, but it was rejected.

"We need to trust our teachers and we shouldn't be tying their hands," said Clere, who was the only Republican committee member to vote against the bill.

During a committee hearing last week, social conservative groups voiced concerns about children being taught inappropriate sexual education materials. They believed that parents should actively screen those materials, noting that silence from a parent doesn't mean consent.

Under the new proposal, if a parent disapproves of a sex education curriculum, his or her child would be excused from the class while the rest of the students would still be part of that lesson.

Democratic Rep. Vernon Smith, of Gary, said he worried that the 45-day notice period in the new proposal could still be cumbersome for schools to carry out.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma agreed with parents having approval rights over what their children are taught in school about sexual education. "I would want to do so with my own kids," he said last week.

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