Sponsor of HB177 called out school board member for spreading ‘blatantly false’ information.
The Utah House voted down a bill Friday that would have updated how health education is taught in schools.
Before her fellow representatives made their decision, Carol Spackman Moss tried to dispel misinformation she said had been swirling around her bill and explained why she pushed for this legislation.
“I care deeply about the health and safety of our young people,” said the Democrat from Holladay, who’s a former teacher. “I think I fell short as a mother because I didn’t give the information that I might have given, had I had more education myself.”
In the spirit of compromise, Spackman Moss made adjustments to her bill after collaborating with her peers across the aisle. She removed a portion that taught about consent, including what does not constitute consent.
Spackman Moss also added a section that specified how parents would have to “opt-in” for their children to learn what was proposed in her bill in 7th and 11th grades. And before deciding whether their student will participate, parents would receive information that included “a warning that the topics or materials may cause distress to a student who has experienced sexual assault.”
What HB177 would have done was require the state Board of Education to develop curriculum for teaching students about tools they can use to get help for the physical and psychological effects of sexual assault, and to help them understand that “no one has the right to touch an individual in a sexual manner if that individual does not want to be touched.”
This would be taught in a way that is “free from victim shaming,” the bill says, would be focused “on developing a student’s communication skills so that the student is able to communicate about, and show respect for, other individuals’ boundaries.”
“I have no nefarious motivations in this bill,” Spackman Moss said. “And in fact, in my opinion, it is not only wrong, but it’s dangerous for people in elected positions, like a state school board member, to send out things that are blatantly false.”
“That’s been a big hindrance to this bill, and it’s not right,” she added.
When asked for comment, Cline said in a text message Friday afternoon, “Kids need skills to protect themselves from grooming both online and in person. We already have programs in place to do this,” which makes the bill “unnecessary.”
“Neither of these programs include teaching youth to ‘consent’ to sexual behaviors,” Cline said. Instead, students are taught skills about how to get out of a situation when they feel unsafe and uncomfortable, to not let others touch their private parts (unless medically necessary), about body ownership and signs of grooming.
“What are we missing?” Cline said.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said on the House floor that he and other lawmakers have been barraged with emails, including with this video. King clarified that Planned Parenthood is not behind the bill. He encouraged his colleagues to ignore “absolutely false” information and to read what the bill actually says.
Even though Spackman Moss removed references to consent from her bill, Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, commented Friday that consent “is a legal term” and “a loaded term,” which he did not think teachers are equipped to give instruction on.
Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, proposed adding a line stating that students would be taught about the “illegality of sexual activity with minors.”
On Friday, Nelson also said he thought this topic was better left to parents to teach their children about.
Spackman Moss said she respects that parents teach values, but said that schools provide information and can help start conversations. Her bill would give children skills they need to have successful, healthy relationships in life, including in marriage, she said. If anything, HB177 helps promote Utah’s focus on abstinence, according to Spackman Moss.
Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, said he supports the legislation and appreciates the work Spackman Moss put into it.
“The beauty of this bill,” Miles said, is that it allows parents to choose how they want their children to learn this information.
Consent is about more than just sex, according to Spackman Moss. It’s about personal autonomy and how to respect one another’s boundaries, she said.
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