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Back to June Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 293 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JUNE 2010

Prosecutor Warns Districts About New Sex Ed Law
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In a letter sent to five Wisconsin school districts, prosecutor Scott Southworth warned that a new sex ed law could lead to criminal charges against teachers for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

Wisconsin schools aren't required to offer sex ed courses, but those that do must now include instruction on how to use condoms and birth control pills. Southworth contends the law "turns objective instruction" into "implicit encouragement and advocacy" by going beyond the effects of contraceptives to instruction on how to use them. "It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks," he said.

The Juneau County district attorney explained that the new curriculum requirements are at odds with other state laws prohibiting intercourse with any child under the age of 18. He said he handles numerous sexual assault cases each year, many of which involve young adults having sex with teenage children; in Wisconsin, children under 17 who have sex with each other can be prosecuted as juveniles. Southworth holds that the new law "promotes the sexualization — and sexual assault — of our children."

Moreover, Southworth said, "If a teacher instructs any student aged 16 or younger how to utilize contraceptives where the teacher knows the child is engaging in sexual activity with another child — or even where the 'natural and probable consequences' of the teacher's instruction is to cause that child to engage in sexual intercourse with a child — that teacher can be charged" under Wisconsin's delinquency of a minor statute.

Southworth also wrote that the statute undermines parental authority because schools must encourage kids to seek advice about sexual behavior not only from parents, but also from other family members. Schools would also have to condone controversial sexual behavior because the law requires instruction about "gender stereotypes," which would likely include discussions of homosexual, transgender and transsexual individuals.

The DA is also troubled by a provision that allows "volunteer health care providers" to provide sex ed instead of district teachers. That proviso opens the door for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country and a lobbyist for the new law, to come into schools. Students "should not be subjected to pandering by 'volunteers' from local contraception businesses whose real interest is likely obtaining new, young customers," Southworth wrote.

The law's primary author, Representative Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), dismissed the attorney's letter as a scare tactic. Representative Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison), former executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League and co-author of the bill, said that the DA was "not a credible legal source on this matter," and that his letter was "irresponsible." Southworth countered that it was the legislature that acted irresponsibly in its passage of the law, and he feels he was ethically responsible to warn districts of the potential consequences.

Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said the law infringes on the right of local officials to determine standards for their districts. He voted no on the bill, as did all his Republican colleagues. "This almost certainly requires school districts to teach in a way that would be offensive to Christian parents," he said.

Democratic Governor Jim Doyle disagreed, saying, "We wouldn't leave it to a school board to decide that they could teach — to be absurd — that one plus one equals three. The real heart of this bill is to make sure that what's taught is medically accurate and is comprehensive."

The law took effect March 11th, but Southworth expects the legislature to revisit the measure as early as January of next year. Until the bill can be amended or repealed, the DA urged Juneau schools to suspend their sex ed programs and transfer any instruction on human physiology or anatomy into science classes, which are not subject to the bill's stipulations. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2-24-10 and 4-6-10; Teacher Magazine, 4-2-10)


 
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