by Fabiola Cervantes, Guest Writer
Our Voices features guest bloggers in their own words sounding off on disability issues in Arizona.
Fabiola Cervantes is finishing up a Masters of Social Work degree at Arizona State University this spring. Early on, she realized that people navigate the world how they can, with the tools they are given. She’s worked in a wide variety of different focus areas, including alongside veterans, homeless families, children, and individuals with mental health needs.
A bill just passed in the state legislature about teaching sexual health in Arizona public schools, and now awaits a signature from Governor Doug Ducey. Even late in the legislative session, Bill SB1456 is still alive after being first introduced in January 2021.
What is the Bill?
This proposed law will limit the number of children in Arizona who can learn about sexual health, healthy sexuality, and sexual abuse prevention from their teachers. SB1456 is intended to modify rules about lesson plans, notifying parents and how families choose to give permission on sexual health instruction.
Currently, Arizona is an “opt out” state. This means public school districts in Arizona have the choice to offer sexual health instruction, and if it is offered, parents can opt out of it.
If approved, SB1456 will:
- Prevent public school students in grades K-4 from receiving any information about sexual health
- Require schools to get approval in writing from parents and guardians before providing lessons about the topic starting in 5th grade
- Require schools to get approval in writing from parents and guardians before giving any information about HIV or AIDS.
- Require schools to notify parent/guardian of their right to review the sexual instructional material
- Ban lessons about sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression without consent from parents or guardians
To see the full bill, you can visit this link.
Origin of the Bill
This bill was brought forth by state Senator Nancy Barto to ensure parental rights over what material about sexuality is taught to students.
Parents and guardians have these rights in part thanks to the existing state law dubbed the “parents bill of rights” outlined in the Arizona Revised Statutes. It includes the power to opt children OUT of sexual education instruction if they do not agree with it. If SB1456 were to pass, the process to approve sexual health curriculum would take longer for all students by switching to an opt-in method.
For students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be difficult to access the existing lessons on sexual health offered by public schools. If SB1456 passes, here are some pros and cons for students with I/DD:
Pros Related to I/DD Students
- Parents feel more in control of material taught to their children
Cons Related to I/DD Students
- I/DD students and families are already excluded from the sexual education material (Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona School Report, 2021). Requiring families to opt in, further decreases the chances of the I/DD student to receive sexual education
- There is evidence that shows policies teaching sexual health and other sexual education material protects children from abuse (Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona School Report, 2021)
- I/DD students are experiencing an increased rate in abuse (Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona School Report, 2021; Sharbek et. al., 2009). This bill does not discuss the inclusion of I/DD students and sexual health education
Sexual abuse is horrific at any stage of life, but especially for a child. Any prevention strategy must include lessons on consent, respect, and communication in relationships (Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona School Report, 2021). These topics are not thoroughly addressed in SB1456, especially for those in grades K-4.
That’s concerning for I/DD students in elementary school who may not get information that could help them stay safe from sexual abuse.
Call your representative in the Arizona House of Representatives and let them know where you stand on the bill.