Raleigh, N.C. — The state House voted Wednesday to allow more types of experts to design and approve sexual education materials in North Carolina schools. But some are concerned it opens the door to ideological groups.
Senate Bill 279, as amended in the House, would add sex trafficking to the sexual education curriculum in middle school. It would also expand the types of experts who may design and approve materials for sex ed courses.
House sponsor Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, said the expansion of the list was needed to allow law enforcement and other experts on sex trafficking to collaborate in planning what students should be taught about the topic.
Current law allows only credentialed experts in sexual health education to approve curriculum materials. Riddell said that's "too narrow."
"We wanted to get all hands on deck in this effort. We know we need more people – every available resources we have to combat sex trafficking," Riddell said on the House floor Wednesday. "So, we wanted to remove that and allow more people access to the development of curriculum."
As written, however, the bill would have allowed any type of expert in any field to plan sex ed courses – even "your auto mechanic," quipped Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.
House members approved an amendment drafted by Stam and Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, narrowing the list to credentialed experts in "education, adolescent psychology, behavioral counseling, medicine, human anatomy, biology, ethics, or health education."
Fisher agreed that middle-school girls need to be taught about how to avoid sex traffickers, but she warned the original bill "would have gone backwards."
"We surely do not want to go back to the days of inaccurate information and 'anything goes' sex ed," Fisher told the House. "What we have to do is keep strong language with regards to experts in the field of sexual health education. This bill does that. It also asks that we continue to adhere to curriculum requirements."
Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, brought up Tuesday's committee discussion about a sex ed course by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. During that discussion, some bill supporters said their local school districts might prefer that course to state-approved materials.
"Would this amendment allow that type of material to be in our schools, based on the author’s credentials?" Cotham asked Stam.
"The author is a psychologist," Stam responded. "If it was also based upon scientific research that was peer-reviewed, yes."
"Anyone who comes in under the list of experts would be bringing along with them information that addresses the things that need to be taught in that curriculum," added Fisher.
Cotham was not persuaded.
"I think this legislation has another intent. The real attempt is to allow faith-based sex education curriculum and make it available in our public schools," she told WRAL News after the session. "I just have very much concern that this opens [sex ed courses] up to groups that aren’t necessarily based on medical evidence and research concerning adolescent psychology and developmentally appropriate materials.
"I don’t think the amendment fixes it," she added. "It may have appeared that it did, but the author that was referenced yesterday in committee falls under one of these categories. So, my fear is, this really does open it up to that group, and I just don’t think legislators need to put our hands everywhere on school curriculum, especially at the end of the session without much vetting."
Cotham was one of only two "no" votes on the measure, which passed 108-2 and now heads back to the Senate for a final vote. It could be on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk by the end of the week.