A Wisconsin prosecutor is warning that teachers who teach the state's new sex education curriculum could be arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of children.
Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth told the Wisconsin State Journal that the state's sex education law, which was signed by Gov. Jim Doyle in February, is a "sick and shameful piece of legislation" that encourages illegal sex among minors. And he sent a letter to five school districts urging them to temporarily drop all sex education classes until the Legislature can repeal the law.
"Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender," Southworth wrote in the March 24 letter. "It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks."
The new law requires schools that teach sex education to include curriculum about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases as part of comprehensive classes. But Southworth said it essentially forces school districts to "instruct children on sex-for-pleasure." And in his letter, he warned the law promotes the sexual assault of children, exposes teachers to possible criminal liability, undermines parental authority, requires districts to condone controversial sexual behavior, gives the contraceptive industry access to school children and may expose districts to civil litigation.
"This, in turn, will lead to more child sexual assaults," he said in the letter.
Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, who helped to draft the new law, called Southworth a "zealot" who's trying to scare people out of teaching important classes that will combat teen pregnancy and help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
"I think this is about trying to intimidate school administrators and teachers into staying silent," she said of his letter.
She also said the legislation went through a "multi-year vetting process" and has widespread support among parents and school districts.
Under the new law, parents can still remove their children from sex education courses. And schools would also be allowed not to offer sex education classes, but they would be required to notify parents of that decision. It bans abstinence-only education.
Southworth, a Republican, said teachers will be pushed into "encouragement and advocacy" that "could lead to criminal charges." And he said districts may be forced to teach about homosexuality as well as transgender and transsexual people. He also said the law will allow "health care providers" such as Planned Parenthood to effectively "market sexually-oriented products to our children."
But at least one district that received the letter said this won't affect its decision, because it hasn't taught sex education since the school board opted not to in 1993.
"His letter is a moot issue for my district," said Charlie Krupa, superintendent of the Necedah Area School District.
And Chris Taylor, the public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said the law will not change the group's policy of only going into schools as volunteers, and only when they're invited. She said the law promotes medically accurate and age-appropriate information to help students make good choices.
"This is a very threatening letter to teachers," Taylor said. "But we believe it's baseless."
She added that Juneau County currently has high rates of STDs and teenage pregnancy.
Walter J. Dickey, a law professor at UW-Madison who specializes in criminal law, said it's unlikely a judge would find much merit in charging a teacher with contributing to the delinquency of a minor simply for teaching the new curriculum.
The courts would give "enormous deference to the recent legislative action" — i.e., the new sex ed statute — and would assume that legislators knew enough about what they were doing to not put teachers who teach the curriculum at risk for being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, he said.
— State Journal reporter Chris Rickert contributed to this report.