By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
A group of local parents joined with parent advocacy groups throughout the region in celebrating a momentous decision from the Governor’s office last week. On Thursday, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill that many feared would have eroded parent’s choice in their kids’ education as well as opened the door for introduction of a controversial comprehensive sex education curriculum into the state’s schools.
The veto decision was met with jubilation by parents who had worked to mobilize a public input campaign to stop the measure.
“It was just fabulous and we were so excited!” said local parent Erika Whitmore, who also heads a sex education subcommittee of the Moapa Valley Community Education Advisory Board (MVCEAB). “Something actually went in our favor. It was just refreshing to know that there is still stuff that we can do to be heard.”
The excitement extended well beyond local parents to advocates in the region.
“We were elated!” said Las Vegas resident Deborah Earl, Vice President of the regional Power2Parent group which has a worked to retain parent control in sex education curriculum. “This is a long, hard-fought battle and we coudn’t have done it without support of parents.”
The fight over AB348 had been fierce throughout the legislative session. The bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Amber Joiner (D-Reno), was highly controversial from the start. Each time it appeared on the agenda in committee, it drew huge, emotionally charged crowds to offer public comment.
The language of the bill posed two main problems for parents of public school students, Earl explained.
Firstly, it appeared to erode parents’ control over education of his/her child, Earl said. Current law requires parents to sign a form that opts their children in to sex education instruction. If the form is not signed, the student is not allowed to attend that unit of instruction.
AB 348 kept the opt-in provision but would have made a subtle change. It would have allowed for the establishment of an online form for parents. This form would have a box for parents to check to opt their child into sex education. But that check box could be formulated as a one-time opt-in to sex education for the child’s entire public school career. This was unacceptable to parent groups.
“There is a big difference between sex ed in 5th grade and sex ed in high school, and there should be,” said Whitmore. “Just because a parent opts their kid in for elementary school sex ed doesn’t mean that they want to have their child in all the rest. This would have taken away a little bit of parent control.”
The second sticking point in the bill for parent groups was general instruction to school districts on what should be included in the sex ed curriculum. The bill didn’t specifically mandate any course of instruction to districts. But it did specifically mandate that the curriculum include materials appropriate “…for a pupil of any race, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or ethnic or cultural background…”
Parent groups felt that this language opened the door wide for a comprehensive sex ed curriculum which they felt would go too far.
“We were concerned that this set the bar at a point impossible to meet and would open the districts up to lawsuits,” Earl said. “Next the ACLU would come in and say, ‘You are not teaching to all 67 sexual orientations; so these are the principles that you must present.’ Then the districts would have to cave to avoid the lawsuits; and suddenly all the control is taken out of the local level.”
Earl said that the language in the bill was not necessary if sex ed curriculum just sticks to the basic scientific facts and avoids controversial concepts. “Our take is that if a curriculum is medically accurate, it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, it covers everybody,” Earl said. “Then you don’t have to be specific about the controversial topics of sexual orientation and gender fluidity and so on. If you just focus on science it will not discriminate.”
In the final days of the legislature the battle over AB348 heightened. When the bill came up for votes in the Assembly, and then the Senate, a torrent of calls from the public flooded the offices of legislators to give input. A good part of that torrent was loosed through the efforts of Power2Parent.
Many calls came from Moapa Valley parents, according to Whitmore. “As those critical times arrived, we worked pretty hard to get the word out to everybody we knew,” Whitmore said. “We sent text messages to all of our contacts and sent out emails and posted on social media sites. The response was incredible. So many people had a part in it.”
The bill ranked in the #5 spot of most votes received on the Nevada Legislature website’s 2017 Bill Opinion Poll. It received nearly 1,700 votes from members of the public who logged in to make comment. About 70 percent of those responses were opposed to the bill.
Despite this, the bill still passed both houses of the legislature. This was done mainly along party lines, with the Democratic majority pushing the bill through.
Last week, the debate reached a fevered pitch as the bill lay on the governor’s desk awaiting his decision to approve or veto it. Social media, email traffic and text message networks again lit up in the Moapa Valley and across the state as parents were encouraged to call the governor’s office and leave comments.
When the news of the veto finally came, the leaders of the effort were pleased with the results and appreciative of the responsiveness and support from parents.
“We have the best community!” Whitmore said. “We send a notice out about this and people just get right on it. We would get messages back immediately that people had already made contact and provided feedback. I’m sure it was that kind of attitude that made the difference in this. I was just proud of our community.”
Earl pointed out that parent opposition to the bill was broad-based and bipartisan.
“This was not a Republican vs. Democrat issue,” Earl said. “We had strong response from parents, in all segments of the community, who stood up and said no to this. Nothing galvanizes parents as much as the topic of sex ed in public schools. In the past, we have seen parents from all over the community pack in to trustee meetings all night long to say that they want to be involved. This victory really belongs to them.”
Though AB 348 is now dead, Earl recognizes that the battle on the issue is still far from over.
“There is no question that the real work begins today,” Earl said. “This issue will be back again. We will have to fight another day in trustee meetings or at the legislature. But we are working to bring things forward that will strengthen parental rights in Nevada. We just want to keep parents informed.”
To stay informed or to learn more about Power2Parent, go to www.power2parent.org.