Under the Dome

Bill expands experts who can authorize sex education courses

The state House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would expand the kinds of experts who could approve sex education that begins in seventh grade.

The bill’s authors wanted to change current law from credentialed "sexual health education" experts to simply "credentialed experts." Rep. Chris Whitmire, a Republican from Transylvania County, said the intention was to allow school districts to use religious material in sex education curriculum if they wanted.

But concerns raised in a committee on Tuesday that the definition was too broad led to bipartisan amendments that dialed it back. Now the sex education courses can be approved by credentialed experts in the fields of adolescent psychology, behavioral counseling, medicine, human anatomy, biology, ethics or health education, in addition to sexual health education.

Senate Bill 279 was also amended to include classes on awareness and prevention of sex trafficking. It also includes its original provisions, which the Senate approved in April, altering requirements for licensed professional counselors.

The bill passed 108-2, and returns to the Senate. Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County said she was concerned the intent of the legislation was to protect abstinence-only sex education espoused by groups such as Focus on the Family. Rep. Skip Stam, a Republican from Apex, said material from that organization could be used if it was peer-reviewed and based on scientific research.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, also voted against it.