McDermott Head shot blue shirtBy Representative Bob McDermott

It was a giant step in the right direction when DOE revised Regulation #2210.1 in June.  Starting with the 2014-15 school year, parents must affirmatively sign an opt-in form to have their children to participate in sexual health education.  This was a positive change, given the public outcry after community members spoke out against the many troubling aspects of the human research project called “Pono Choices”.  Whereas the new policy recognizes and strengthens the role of parents in their children’s education, the old policy was just the opposite – students would be subjected to whatever sexual health education program was being taught in their classroom, unless parents took the time to write a letter notifying the school that they did not want their child to participate.  In other words, it was opt-out, not opt-in, which requires more thought and active participation from parents.  Even the DOE belatedly agreed stating in a September letter, “The DOE strengthened the role of parents in this decision by changing its policy from an opt-out to an opt-in.”

 

This new and better approach has hardly taken hold, but the State Legislature’s Keiki Caucus is already planning to attack it. Keiki Caucus bills are intended to advocate for children and youth, and have merit – but two bills proposed for 2015 are an affront to parental rights and require greater scrutiny.  The first bill would undo the DOE’s new “opt-in” requirement specifying that sexual health education must be provided in all public schools – even elementary schools – but forces parents to “opt-out” via written request if they do not want their child to participate.  This is a disappointing development, and disrespectful to parents.

 

The second bill would establish a “Safe Places for Youth Pilot Program”.  I voted against the bill in 2014 because of its potential for misuse and its clear threat to parental rights.  The bill would give “youth in crisis” ages 14-20 a network of “safe places” to receive counseling and social services.  But some provisions are deeply disturbing.  While well-intended, the simple fact is that the counseling and services (which address subjects like pregnancy prevention, suicide, and tobacco/alcohol abuse) might involve sensitive subjects that parents would rather address directly with their children, rather than rely on a complete stranger.

 

Also, the bill’s definition of “youth in crisis” is quite broad and includes minors having “problems at home” (read: any child mad at mom and dad because they must be home by 10:00 PM and can’t smoke pot).  And while minors under age 18 are usually considered too young to consent to services, a service provider participating in this program would be excused from obtaining consent from the minor’s parent or guardian. The provider could ignore the parent or guardian’s refusal to consent, if for example the minor simply alleges that he/she would feel “unsafe” if forced to return home immediately, and the provider believes the minor.  Parents everywhere should be concerned, especially since the program would require service providers to report suspected child abuse or neglect to authorities, and would house the minor elsewhere.  Make no mistake, this undermines, not strengthens parental rights.

 

Today, more than ever, young people need the stabilizing influence of their parents. As a father who has raised 8 children with my wife of nearly 30 years, I strongly urge parents and concerned community members to contact their legislators, understand the ramifications of these proposed bills, and prepare to testify at the Legislature if the bills move forward.  Anyone needing assistance tracking these bills may contact my office at repmcdermott@capitol.hawaii.gov.

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