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Sex education opt-in legislation narrowly advances out of Oklahoma House committee

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Sex education opt-in legislation narrowly advances out of Oklahoma House committee

Feb 20, 2024 | 5:06 pm ET
By Janelle Stecklein
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Sex education opt-in legislation narrowly advances out of Oklahoma House committee
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Members of the Oklahoma House Committee on General Government met Tuesday to consider legislation changing how sex education is taught in schools. (Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma House committee narrowly advanced a measure that would only allow a student to receive sexual education if their parents opt in.

House Bill 3120, by Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, also removes a requirement that students be taught about consent during sexual encounters.

Currently, state law requires parents to opt out if they don’t want their child to learn about sexual education in school, but Williams aims to flip that so parents instead have to give written permission for their child to receive it.

“People should know what their (children) are being asked to be involved in,” he said.

Williams said when he attended school, sexual education wasn’t part of the curriculum. 

His bill also requires schools to include lessons dealing with biological sex classifications. 

It also allows people to ignore preferred pronouns, such as he or she, if the pronouns don’t correspond to a person’s biological sex.

He said he’s concerned that parents don’t pay attention to notes that come home from school and might miss the opportunity to opt out. He believes it should be up to a parent to decide whether a child should learn about sexuality in school.

“If it passes and becomes a law, a lot more parents will be completely engaged in their children’s education because it will challenge them to be part of the decision making process,” Williams said.

Rep. Nick Archer, R-Elk City, who voted against the measure, said he’s concerned that parents, who want their children to receive sexual education, might overlook the school notes that allow them to opt in. 

He said Oklahoma ranks in the Top 10 in HIV transmission rates and for some sexually transmitted infections, especially in rural areas.

Some parents believe trained sexual education teachers are better prepared to educate about preventing the spread of those diseases, Archer said.

He said he’s also concerned that the bill removes the requirement to teach students about consent.

Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon, said requiring parents to opt in allows parents to provide “positive affirmation” that children should participate. 

But Rep. Jared Deck, D-Norman, said he’s concerned that the change might violate federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex in education programs. 

Students whose parents aren’t actively involved might miss out on sex education, Deck said.

“When we send kids home to abusive spaces, to parents who are irresponsible, what is the consequence for their actions or their lack of actions whenever they aren’t teaching,” he said, adding that he’s concerned a lack of comprehensive sex education could lead to negative family outcomes.

He also said the lawmakers are continually changing the state’s curriculum at a time when school districts need dependability. Local communities want the power to decide what’s being taught in their schools, Deck said. They don’t want lawmakers dictating that to them, he said.

The measure, which passed 4-3, heads to the full House.