Arizona’s Kyrene School District announced recently that it will add condom instruction to the sex education curricula for the seventh and eighth grades, to take effect during the next school year. The new instruction will teach students that condoms can “reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” making it a rarity in the state. The new lessons, however, will not distribute or demonstrate the use of condoms. Arizona law does not require schools to teach sex education, but when it is taught it must stress abstinence. Kyrene, which includes schools in the cities of Tempe, Chandler, and Ahwatukee, already has “one of the most comprehensive curricula” in Arizona. The new policy will serve to provide more detailed information to students on safer sex practices.
This news came at a time when policy makers in the state were considering a bill that would limit young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health information and services statewide. The Parent’s Bill of Rights (Arizona Senate Bill 1309), which was introduced this legislative session, was passed by the state legislature on April 27 and was signed by Governor Janet Brewer on May 10. The final version of the bill does not include the stipulation from the original bill that would have prohibited minors from accessing sexual and reproductive health services without parental consent; however, the bill does require the State Board of Education to develop policies and procedures that would “prohibit a school district from providing sex education instruction to a pupil unless the pupil’s parent provides written permission for the child to participate in the...curricula.” This is known as an “opt-in” policy, as the burden is placed on parents who want their children to receive sex education in the schools to send notification.
Additionally, the bill grants parents “the right to opt out of instruction on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.” This is an unusual step; nationwide, public schools generally require HIV/AIDS education. By allowing parents to remove their children from such classes, Arizona legislators are taking away students’ rights to important information necessary to lead healthy lives.
Furthermore, the Parent’s Bill of Rights mandates that parents have the “right to access and review all medical records of the minor child,” and prohibits medical professionals from writing prescriptions for minors unless they have “secured the written consent of at least one of the minor’s parents” or “secured verbal consent in person or through telemedicine from at least one of the minor’s parents.” The original Senate version went so far as to “repeal the current right under Arizona law for a child to seek medical care for a venereal disease without a parent’s consent,” though that language was removed in the House version.
“This is an awful piece of legislation in the eyes of those who work in the field of children’s health,” comments Jennifer Bonnett, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. “There are so many possible medical problems with this idea.”
Opponents of the bill point out that teaching sex education to all students in the state is crucial. According to the most recent data, Arizona ranks third in the nation for teen pregnancies and fifth in teen birthrates. By introducing information on condoms in middle school, districts can ensure that the majority of students get this crucial education before they become sexually active, since studies show that “rates of pregnancy and STDs jump between middle and high school.” Therefore, according to health officials, “it’s too late to begin discussing sex education in high school.”
“SIECUS believes that all young people have a right to comprehensive sexuality education and access to confidential sexual and reproductive health care and services,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “The Parent’s Bill of Rights infringes upon the rights of Arizona teenagers to make educated decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. It’s clear that statewide policy should follow the example of the Kyrene School District and offer more comprehensive education to students rather than further restricting young people’s ability to gain adequate information and access to services to protect their sexual health.”
Kerry Fehr-Snyder, “Sex Education in Arizona Varies Widely by District,” Arizona Republic, 11 April 2010, accessed 16 April 2010, <http://www.azcentral.com/community/surprise/articles/2010/04/11/20100411arizona-sex-education.html#comments>.
 Arizona Statute §15-102, Section A-4, accessed 16 April 2010, <http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1309s.htm>.
 Fehr-Snyder, “Sex Education in Arizona.”
 Arizona Statute §15-102, Section A-7(g).
 Arizona Statute §1-602, Section A-6; see also Arizona Statute §36-2272, Sections A-1 and A-2, accessed 16 April 2010, <http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1309s.htm>.
 E. J. Montini, “Promoting ‘Parents’ Rights’ That Harm Kids,” Arizona Republic, 11 April 2010, accessed 16 April 2010, <http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/04/10/20100410Montini0411.html>.
 U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity (New York: Guttmacher Institute January 2010), accessed 16 April 2010, <http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends.pdf>, 13.
 “Arizona: Kyrene School District Parents Review Lesson Plans for Sex Education Program,” The Body, 18 March 2010, accessed 19 April 2010, <http://www.thebody.com/content/news/art55907.html>.
 Fehr-Snyder, “Sex Education in Arizona.”