SB 1456: Arizona governor vetoes strict sex ed legislation; issues Executive Order mandating transparency

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey faced a deadline Tuesday to sign or veto legislation revamping the state’s sex education laws that would make them some of the strictest in the nation when it comes to teaching about LGBTQ issues.

The proposed law would prohibit all discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS in sex education classes unless parents are notified in advance and specifically opt in for the instruction.

The proposal applies outside of sex ed classes as well, requiring parents to agree to have their children learn about historical events such as a discussion of the modern gay rights movement that sprang from the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York.

READ Senate Bill 1456: sex education instruction; parental rights

It would also ban any sex ed classes before 5th grade, which opponents have said will put young students who now learn about "good touch-bad touch" to avoid molestation at greater risk.

Ducey vetoed the legislation. When asked last year about a similar proposal that would have barred sex education before 7th grade but never reached is desk, he responded that he was comfortable with what his sons were taught in Arizona schools when they were younger and had talked with them about it.

"I don’t know exactly what the problem is we’re trying to solve," he said of the 2020 proposal.

The Executive Order includes more aggressive transparency requirements than SB 1456. It requires all sex education curriculum to be posted online for parents to review, without exception.

The order requires the State Board of Education to adopt the following requirements by June 30, 2021:

All meetings held for the purposes of reviewing and selecting the sex education course of study must be publicly noticed at least two weeks before occurring and be open to the public.

Any proposed sex education course of study must be available and accessible for review and public comment for at least sixty days before the governing board or governing body decides whether to approve that course of study.

At least two public hearings within the sixty-day period before the governing board or governing body approves any course of study must be conducted. 

Once a course of study has been approved, a school district or charter school shall make the sex education curricula available for parental review, both online and in-person at least two weeks before any instruction is offered. 

Any existing sex education course of study must be made available and accessible for review both online and in person.

"Arizona is and will remain a national leader in parental rights," said Ducey. "Too often, parents are left out of this process, and the importance is even greater when it comes to educating students about deeply personal matters like sex education. This Executive Order ensures that parents are in the driver’s seat when it comes to overseeing the education of their children."

Read the Executive Order:

Read Ducey's veto letter:

Social conservative groups that backed the measure call it a needed parental rights issue, arguing that parents deserve to know and approve of what their children are taught in school. Arizona currently allows parents to review all learning material and already requires an opt-in for sex ed classes.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Legislation over unified opposition from Democrats, who called it an attack on LGBTQ students who are already marginalized and dangerous to young students.

The legislation comes two years after the Republican governor signed a repeal of a 1991 law banning HIV/AIDS instruction that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle." That bill emerged as the state faced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law that the Republican attorney general and Democratic schools chief refused to fight.

Arizona is among several Republican-led states where lawmakers considered similar changes to sex education this year.

Moving to give parents more control over what their children may be taught about LGBTQ issues is new. It comes amid other efforts pushing back on social changes, including legislation in some states to ban transgender athletes from competing on school teams of their identified sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group that tracks such legislation.

Arizona is one of five states that already require parents’ permission before children can attend sex education classes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The new proposal would have essentially required a double opt-in for HIV/AIDS instruction that addresses sexual orientation or gender identity. Additional permission would be needed for LGBTQ discussions in any other class.

Idaho legislation also would require notifications and opt-ins, including for discussion of sexual orientation outside of sex education classes. It has passed the House and awaits Senate action.

Lawmakers in Tennessee enacted a measure the governor pledged to sign and the Missouri Legislature is considering one that would require parents to be notified before instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity but would exclude historical references.

In Montana, the Legislature passed a bill earlier this month initially aimed at requiring parents to opt in to sex education. But the legislation was changed after criticism from education groups. It now allows parents to opt their children out of sex ed and awaits action by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Advocates for comprehensive sex education say such legislation can have far-reaching negative effects under the guise of parental rights by limiting fact-based education that young people need to stay safe.

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