Wis. sex ed measure supports local control, parent involvement
By Benjamin Mann
Barbara Sella of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Barbara Sella of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

.- Children, parents, and communities will benefit from Wisconsin's newly-passed bill allowing different types of sex education in public schools, according to the state's Catholic conference.

“Science is confirming what natural law and Catholic faith express: that human beings flourish best when they live balanced, authentic, and integrated lives of love and responsibility,” said Barbara Sella, associate director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, explaining her support for the bill.

“Everyone deserves to hear this message, but especially children and adults who may be struggling with poverty, broken marriages, or infidelity: 'There is another way.'”

Sella spoke to CNA on March 19, about the bill that is expected to be signed into law after its March 13 passage in the state assembly. It repeals a 2010 law that forced school districts either to offer one mandated and controversial curriculum, or give students no sex education at all.

Wisconsin's Catholic conference, which represents the local church in matters of public policy, was one of several groups supporting a change from what Sella called an “all or nothing” approach.

Under the new bill, schools remain free to offer “comprehensive sex education” that includes information on contraception and other advice on “safe sex.” But they may also offer an abstinence-based curriculum, or a “dual track” program teaching abstinence alongside other approaches.

Districts can also choose not to provide sex education, as was allowed under the 2010 “Healthy Kids Act.”

With the expected signature of Governor Scott Walker, that law will be replaced with the similarly-named – but critically different – “Strong Communities/Healthy Kids Act.”

In addition to the provision for abstinence-focused and dual-track programs, the bill makes other curriculum changes that Sella says will encourage responsibility and respect for life. Students will learn about prenatal development and birth, parental responsibility, and the benefits of marriage.

They will also learn that abstinence is the only fully reliable way to prevent pregnancy as well as sexually-transmitted diseases – a fact emphasized by the Center for Disease Control in its own literature, according to Sella.

While these changes are likely to find approval among Catholics and other people of faith, Sella stressed that they were not an attempt to impose religious principles on the public.

“As Catholics we know that human sexuality is an astonishing gift that can lead to authentic love, new life, and the nurturing of children in safe, loving homes,” she noted.

“But what is also becoming evident is that this teaching accords with what the biological and the social sciences are telling us about human reproduction, marriage, child-rearing, and family.”

She described the “Strong Communities/Healthy Kids Act” as a “measured, tolerant, and inclusive piece of legislation,” and noted that it “does not seek to prohibit comprehensive education. School districts that want to continue offering comprehensive sex education will be able to do so.”

But Sella expects that time will show the benefits of an approach that promotes maturity and responsibility, over a curriculum focused on minimizing the harms of risky behavior.

“A number of school districts may not adopt it,” she said of the abstinence-focused option. “But little by little, as long as there's an opening, we'll see over time who does the best.”

“Over time, I think people will say: 'Look at that – that seems to work,'” she predicted.

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