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The brakes were applied to Senate File 376 on Tuesday in the Iowa Senate. The bill had advanced to floor debate, but was deferred after a proposed amendment was declared not germane to the bill.

The bill adds mental health awareness, coping skills and suicide prevention to the subject matter that must be included in the unit of health education which school districts and accredited nonpublic schools must offer and teach in grades 7-12.

It’s an already area of bloated standards, which includes:

  • environmental health
  • family life
  • age-appropriate and research-based human growth and development
  • substance abuse and non-use
  • emotional and social health
  • age-appropriate and research-based information regarding sexually transmitted
  • diseases, including HPV and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Sen. Jeff Edler (R-State Center) offered a simple amendment that cleaned up some language to include the standards as early as seventh grade.

Senator Liz Mathis (D-Hiawatha) proposed an amendment to include dating violence into the bill.

“We’ve all seen a number of stories in the newspaper and on television,” she said. “We’ve had a number of groups here advocate for something like this to be put into curriculum.”
Mathis said there’s little doubt that teenagers have a “pretty rough life” and struggle to figure out where they fit in. In addition to bullying and harassment, there’s also the difficulty of dating.

“And the yes and the no,” Mathis said. “We’ve seen in some instances that when it is not learned at a formative age then they go on in life in their adulthood not knowing what is yes and what is no.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) spoke in support of the amendment. He said he lost a couple members of his high school class to suicide — one before graduation and another a couple years later.

“The amendment we’re looking at is very much along the same lines in helping people develop coping skills and to avoid difficult situations,” he said. “I’m sure most of us when we were teenagers found dating to be a challenging new activity. We certainly want to help young people to survive that; to get through that with a positive experience. In particular to avoid situations in which dating violence has occurred or some people feel they have been forced into sexual activity against their consent.”

Quirmbach said the earlier this issue is addressed, the better.

“Instruction in the high school level and before high school level leads to better behavior and less involvement in dating violence,” he said.

Edler asked about the amendment being within the scope of the bill. After discussion it was determined the amendment was not germane.

“It deals with a different subject than mental health and expands the subject of the bill beyond mental health,” said Sen. Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines). “(It’s) beyond mental health and changes the purpose of the bill.”

Mathis asked to defer on the bill, which is where things were left with SF 376 on Tuesday.