Sex ed bill moving in Minn. House draws GOP opposition

Middle school health clinic
Pamphlets line the door to the health clinic at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, in 2008. In Minnesota, legislation is moving in the state House that would require schools to have comprehensive sexual health programs in elementary and secondary grades. Some Republican lawmakers, however, are strongly opposed.
Cheryl Senter | AP 2008

A bill that would require school districts and charter schools to provide a comprehensive sexual health education program in elementary and secondary grades beginning in the fall of 2023 won approval in a Minnesotan House committee Wednesday — without the support of Republicans.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, would require the Minnesota Department of Education to develop a model program, including written materials, curriculum resources and instructional training.

Young people need good information when making decisions about their health, their bodies and their relationships, Jordan said, and right now there is no statewide standard to make sure students get that information.

“This means that students across different school districts receive completely different information about sexual and reproductive health, while others get no information at all,” Jordan said, adding that the programs developed by the Education Department would be age and developmentally appropriate. 

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They would also have to stress the importance of sexual consent, she said.

“Prevention begins with educating young people about these issues, how to identify them and how to handle when they arise,” Jordan said.

The House Preventative Health Policy Division approved the bill by a vote of 7-4 with all Republicans opposed.

The bill goes next to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee, but even if the DFL-controlled House passes it, it's unclear what the plan's future is. A companion bill in the Republican-controlled Senate has not received a hearing.

Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, said she is hearing a lot of complaints from parents who want more oversight of the materials used for sex education.

“For many parents, these materials are considered age-inappropriate, and often they are considered obscene, pornographic and not culturally sensitive,” Akland said. 

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, expressed broader concerns about sex education in schools.

“Teaching sex ed to young impressionable teenagers going through puberty, who haven’t had their minds fully developed in terms of weighing the consequences of their actions, can be extremely damaging and destroy their God-given characteristic of modesty,” Gruenhagen said. 

Democrats on the committee supported the legislation.

Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, who is also a physician, said the bill is an example of the kind of evidence-based policy that lawmakers should embrace.

“These are just basic facts about our bodies and how we exist in the world,” Morrison said, “and we need to empower our children to know about themselves.”