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California Senate: Parents must be notified when school guests talk about sex

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center

The California Senate recently passed a bill that requires public schools to provide written notification to parents before any guest speaker or outside organization addresses students about AIDS prevention or sex education.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Tim Leslie, would require written notification if students were scheduled to receive instruction from an outside speaker on "sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, human sexuality, or family life." The notification requirement would also be triggered if students were to receive such instruction at a school assembly.

Senate Bill 1110 passed the Senate on Aug. 12 by a vote of 22-0. The General Assembly voted for the measure last September. The measure now goes to Gov. Pete Wilson. The governor has until Sept. 11 to sign the legislation. If he takes no action, the bill would automatically become law.

"Parents deserve to be informed, in an appropriate manner, about the instruction their students will receive at school, especially when that instruction is on sensitive subjects such as sex education or AIDS prevention," Leslie said after the Senate approved the measure.

"I'm delighted that the Legislature has passed this bipartisan proposal, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law. Parents can now rest assured that they will be fully informed about what their children are learning at school in sex education classes or assemblies."

However, at least one free-speech expert sees constitutional problems with the measure.

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said: "The net effect of this law is that it will make it harder to teach kids about issues of public health relating to sex. This legislation will deny kids information that is accurate and, more importantly, necessary to their future well-being. The law violates the First Amendment rights of 18-year-old students and also infringes on the rights of older minors."

Bertin said the law "disfavors a particular topic and arguably constitutes viewpoint-based discrimination."

Kristen Olsen, Leslie's press secretary disagreed, saying: "Nowhere in the bill is there a limitation on the type of education that students can receive. This bill does not require parental consent, it only requires parental notification. We do not expect this bill to deny information to kids about health care information at all.

"The purpose of this bill is twofold. First of all it restores accountability to sex education classes. Secondly, and more importantly, it makes sure that parents are notified when their children are going to be instructed on sensitive subjects."

Another free-speech expert, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, believes the legislation poses no constitutional problems.

"It is not censorship for a school to give parents a choice as to how their children are to be taught," he said. "Many parents believe sex education should not be taught at school. This is a way of giving parents extra choice. Nothing in the Constitution says schools should teach sex education."

Volokh agrees the legislation is viewpoint discriminatory, but said: "Sure it is viewpoint discrimination, but so what. Show me a school that teaches less about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. than the Ku Klux Klan. Education is not viewpoint neutral, nor should it be viewpoint neutral."

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Last system update: Friday, November 14, 2008 | 01:55:55
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