- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Legislation restricting who can teach sex education in Alaska public schools is becoming law without Gov. Bill Walker’s signature.

Walker faced a Thursday deadline to make a decision about the bill, which critics said would make it more difficult for public school students to receive comprehensive sex education. He had three options: sign it, veto it or let it take effect without his signature. He chose the latter.

Walker called his decision a close call for him to make. He said he got a lot of input from both sides of the debate.

In a letter to House Speaker Mike Chenault outlining his decision, Walker said the bill may not be perfect but he said the potential advantages it offers to school districts should be given a chance to work.

The bill from Wasilla Republican Rep. Wes Keller, passed by state lawmakers in May, deals with parental involvement in education, greater local control and student testing.

It calls for local school boards to enact policies allowing parents to object to and withdraw their kids from an activity, class or statewide standards-based test. It also called for a hiatus in statewide testing while a plan for selecting new tests approved by school districts is devised. That hiatus would be lifted if the state faced the loss of federal education dollars for not testing.

But perhaps the most contentious elements involved sex education. Walker said they were also misunderstood.

The bill calls for sex education to be taught by certified teachers under contract with a given school or someone under a teacher’s supervision approved by the local school board and whose credentials parents can review. Those provisions were added following heated debate over separate, stalled proposals that would have barred Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education in schools.

Walker said he believes the transparency and opportunity for parental involvement offered by the bill will be beneficial.

Jessica Cler, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called the bill a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education in Alaska,” saying sex ed will be the most scrutinized school subject in the state.

“Every single guest speaker, every curriculum and even every piece of paper being used must be individually approved by each school board,” she said in a statement. “This is designed to do one thing: block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

Cler said Walker failed to show leadership.

Keller said the bill doesn’t prohibit sex education and is in line with the belief that local districts should be in control of all curriculum offered in their districts. “The law does not tell the school board what curriculum to adopt,” he said in a statement.


Follow Becky Bohrer at https://twitter.com/beckybohrerap .

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