LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers listened to a heated debate Tuesday on whether to mandate sexual education classes.
The Legislature's Education Committee heard more than two hours of testimony on a measure that would require school districts to offer sex education in the classroom. The bill by Malcolm Sen. Ken Harr would allow students to opt-out of the classes with written parental permission.
Current law allows school districts to decide what to teach students about sexual health. Most urban districts teach students about sexually transmitted diseases and birth control, but other Nebraska schools do not, Harr said. He wants all schools in Nebraska to teach the same information.
"This bill is about providing knowledge," Harr said.
But opponents expressed concerns about a provision that would prohibit teachers from promoting bias in the curriculum against sexual orientation, gender identity and sexually active students.
Karen Bowling of Nebraska Family Council said the sexual orientation provision of the bill disregards religious beliefs.
Under his bill, schools' sex education curriculum would be required to meet certain criteria, including teaching about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention through abstinence or contraceptives. Teachers would also be required to teach students about healthy relationships and how to avoid peer pressure.
Harr said he brought the bill because young people are not informed about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
Supporters of the bill say students need to be provided age-appropriate and medically accurate information about sex and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
"My understanding is many if not most of the schools in the state confine their sexuality education to abstinence only," Planned Parenthood health educator Peggy Olson said in support of the bill. "Research has shown abstinence only programs are ineffective, often inaccurate and even cause harm."
Former educator Maris Bentley testified against the sexual orientation provision, saying it would "promote gratuitous, recreational sex."
"In other words, instruction and materials about so-called safe sex methods for heterosexuals must also include instruction and materials for homosexuals, or for that matter, any individuals who identify themselves with any number of other sexual variations," she said.
Harr said during the hearing that he will not remove sexual orientation from the bill and doesn't think Nebraskans should be offended by including it. Harr also said the majority of Nebraskans support sex education curriculum that explains birth control options.
University of Nebraska Medical Center professor Christopher Fisher said research has shown teaching sexual education will not lead to increased sexual activity among young people. He supported the bill and said a statewide policy on sexual education is needed.
Fisher said, "Is it fair for a child in Chadron to not get the same robust, medically accurate, age-appropriate education in sexual health as it is for a young person living in Omaha?"