Number of controversies decline as schools adopt conservative policies. (Analysis of 2001-2002 School Year).
In the 2001-2002 school year, SIECUS documented only 62 controversies related to sexuality education in 25 states. As in past years, many of these debates represented efforts to restrict the scope and content of sexuality education programs. Attempts to institute strict abstinence-only-until-marriage programs remained one of the most popular methods of accomplishing this goal. Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education did, however, also work to limit topics, exclude materials, and prevent discussions. Other attempts to restrict sexuality education involved mandating messages and instituting administrative challenges.
Advocates for such restrictions made advances at both the state and local levels. In several cases, the lines between the two were blurred as state legislators became involved in local decisions, often speaking out in favor of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, material restrictions, or mandated messages.
At the same time, some communities were forced to take a hard look at restrictions that they had already set in place. Faced with alarmingly high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teen pregnancy, or disturbing events such as sexual assault or infant abandonment, these communities had to determine whether their current programs were adequately meeting the needs of their students.
In these and other communities, advocates worked hard to implement more comprehensive sexuality education programs or defend existing programs. During the 2001-02 school year, many of these advocates were, in fact, young people themselves. Motivated by high rates of pregnancy and STDs among their peers, many spoke out against abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that withheld important health information, and demanded that their schools provide more information and services related to sexual health.
RESTRICTION OF SEXUALITY EDUCATION
Efforts to restrict sexuality education most commonly begin with an attempt to change the entire focus of a curriculum. In recent years, these attempts have most often involved the suggestion to replace a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum with a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage program. These programs characteristically prohibit discussions and materials to a narrow range of topics and often rely on fear and shame to influence young people's behaviors.
Over the years, however, opponents of comprehensive sexuality education have learned that this can be a long, drawn out process and may not always result in a more restrictive program. As a result, other strategies for limiting school-based sexuality education have evolved. They include eliminating materials, prohibiting discussions, silencing speakers, and setting up administrative roadblocks.
This year, opponents of comprehensive sexuality education on the state and local levels have engaged in yet another strategy When efforts to implement abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have proved unsuccessful, they have worked to make existing sexuality education curricula resemble abstinence-only-until-marriage programs by mandating biased discussions on abstinence, marriage, and abortion.
Changing the focus. After three failed attempts in 14 years, New Jersey Assemblywoman Marion Crecco (R) finally succeeded in getting the AIDS Prevention Act of 1999 passed, seven days before her final term ended. This legislation requires public school sexuality education and HIV/AIDS education programs to "stress abstinence." It also requires that any instruction on contraceptives must include information on their failure rates for "preventing pregnancy, HIV infection, and other sexually transmitted diseases in actual use among adolescent populations." (1)
While this new legislation does not stop schools from teaching other prevention methods, some critics have expressed concern that teachers will spend too much time on abstinence in fear of violating the law. Others criticized the bill as unnecessary, noting that New Jersey mandates a comprehensive sexuality education program that already covers the topic of abstinence. (2)
After weeks of debate, the Rochester, MI, Community School Board approved several significant changes to the district's elementary and middle school sexuality education curriculum. The new curriculum eliminated reproductive health and HIV/AIDS instruction from kindergarten through third grade and added "modesty" and "respect" as key concepts. The new sixth grade curriculum removed family planning and STD "benchmarks" (learning objectives) and also added a "benchmark" on abstinence.
The new seventh grade program may introduce contraceptive methods through approved materials but cannot use models or demonstrations. The seventh grade program must also discuss the risks of contraceptive methods and place increased emphasis on abstinence. Finally, gender separation for the discussion of "sensitive topics" was extended beyond the elementary level to the sixth and seventh grades.
One parent, who felt the new curriculum was not strict enough, stated that "everything has to be politically correct today, but sex education is taught too early, and that plants a seed...We need to teach morality." (3)
Although the changes produced a more conservative curriculum, the Board members and administration faced strong public response that it was still not conservative enough. A particular point involved two videos, What Kids Want to Know About Sex and Crowing Up and Teens Who Choose Abstinence, included in the middle school program. Some parents complained that the videos did not "sufficiently emphasize sexual abstinence as the preferred choice." As a result, the Board concluded that seventh grade students will not view What Kids Want to Know About Sex and Growing Up. Instead, the media center will make it available for those parents who want to check it out.
Eliminating Material. As in years past, several communities found themselves debating those materials included in sexuality education courses. Whether the issue is the "explicit nature" of such materials or the grade level at which they are appropriate for inclusion, curricula, pamphlets, books, videos, and other teaching aids are often at the center of controversy. In some cases, state or district officials initiated such debate after reviewing materials they found objectionable. In other cases, parents or community members raised the issue.
In Anchorage, AK, parents petitioned the School Board asking that their consent be required for students to check out or read the book It's Perfectly Normal, an illustrated children's book about puberty, reproduction, and sexuality One parent involved in the petition explained, "We do not believe a book with pictures of people having sex, naked bodies, people masturbating, people putting on condoms, a student having an erection in front of a school class, or gay people hugging is necessary at the [elementary] school level."
Anchorage's Controversial Issues Review Committee recommended to the full Board that the book, which was available in 16 Anchorage middle and elementary school libraries, remain available to students without restriction. In contrast, the superintendent recommended that the Board adopt a policy of restricted access in elementary schools but provide unrestricted access in middle schools.
Before the Board met, State Representative Joe Green mailed 11 of the book's cartoon illustrations to 2,300 parents and voters and encouraged them to testify at the meeting. Rep. Green said he felt "absolute disgust" when he saw the book and noted that the pictures would "draw the attention of kids too young to understand the material." Green said, however, that he "didn't try and sway anybody; I just wanted them to see what was available."
The School Board voted 6-1 to restrict access to It's Perfectly Normal in elementary school libraries but imposed no such restrictions for middle school students. An amendment to limit the restrictions to the first through third grades failed. (4)
The Berkeley County, SC, School Board deadlocked twice when voting to approve supplemental materials for a sexuality education program that were selected by the health committee. The committee, consisting of teachers, health care workers, students, parents, and clergy, recommended materials that include information on AIDS, STDs, birth control, and decision-making. The deputy superintendent, the State Education Department, and half of the Board members stood in support of the materials while the other half favored materials with an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach. (5) SIECUS will continue to monitor this situation.
In a roundabout attempt to ensure that abstinence-only-until-marriage materials are used exclusively in Utah schools, Senator Bill Wright (R) proposed a rule (R 277-474) to remove any authority of the State Instructional Materials Commission (SIMC) to approve or reject sexuality education materials. The SIMC is responsible for reviewing and recommending all instructional materials used in Utah public schools. The SIMC says that "the purpose of state adoption of instructional materials is to provide for the schools of the state the best available instructional materials and to eliminate inferior or undesirable material." A major purpose of SIMC approval is to ensure that approved materials are medically accurate, as required by state law.
Wright's move to limit the SIMC's authority is seen by many as yet another attempt to restrict sexuality education. Last year he authored Senate Bill (SB) 75, which stipulates that when teachers are asked questions about topics that "skirt the state approved curriculum, such as homosexuality," they must pull students aside to answer the question or refer students to a school counselor. Before it passed, SB 75 was amended to clarify that it will not keep teachers from answering questions. However, supporters of the bill say that since teachers cannot answer questions outside Utah's law (which prohibits the advocacy of contraception or homosexuality), the amendment did little to change the intent of the legislation. (6)
R 277-474 took effect on March 1, 2002.
Silencing speakers. The principal of a high school in Arcata, CA, cancelled a performance by the Spare Change peer education theater troupe after attending a performance at another area high school. The program included skits written and performed by local high school students and covering the topics of abstinence, STDs, birth control, dating violence, and homophobia. At issue was "whether the show is too explicit and whether it sufficiently emphasizes abstinence."
A group of students and adults asked the Northern Humboldt Union High School principal and Board of Trustees to reconsider this decision. After the meeting, both sides agreed that they would allow the performance, but the principal would decide which skits were "appropriate." (7)
In Keene, NH, a sexuality education assembly scheduled for Fall Mountain High School was cancelled as the result of last-minute activity by the chair of the School Board. On the evening before Suzi Landolphi was scheduled to present Hot, Sexy & Safer, a program she had conducted at Fall Mountain in 1990, the chairman polled Board members until he found a majority who agreed that the program's content was inappropriate. He then called the superintendent to cancel the program.
At a Board meeting the following week, the principal explained that a majority of her staff had voted in favor of the presentation and that she had not sought the Board's approval because the program's content fell within the school's health curriculum.
Board members and parents also called into question the legitimacy of the chair's actions, noting that phone votes are only accepted in cases of emergency. In addition, several Board members claimed that they did not know the intentions of the chair's phone call or the results. The chair defended his actions and said he believed it was an emergency because the speaker advocates "safe sex to the extent that she's promoting sex, and promotes sexual harassment." He went on to say that if the speaker "was locked in a classroom (with students), I'm convinced that she'd be arrested for endangering a child."
The Board then voted 3-2 to ban the program in future years. Hot, Sexy & Safer was presented to several schools in the region the week prior to these events without incident. (8)
Prohibiting discussions. Guest speakers are not the only ones who cause controversy. Discussions with regular classroom teachers also often spark concern. While classroom discussions on sexuality focus on a wide variety of topics, it has become clear over the years that certain topics such as abortion, sexual orientation, condoms, and oral sex have the most potential to raise controversy. It often arises "after the fact" when parents or educators criticize discussions that have already occurred for content or language that some deem inappropriate. This year, however, many of these debates involved rules designed to either restrict or expand the boundaries of these conversations before they occur.
This year, a lawmaker in Virginia attempted to tie sexuality education discussions to criminal laws barring certain sexual acts. Virginia Delegate John J. Welch (R) introduced House bill (HB) 88, prohibiting any family life education curriculum from discussing topics that are considered "crimes against nature" according to state law. In Virginia, oral sex and anal sex are both acts that are considered "crimes against nature." (9) HB 88 passed the House by a vote of 83 to 16 but failed to pass the Senate. (10)
The Montgomery County, MD, Public School Board heard recommendations from the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development to include "training high school students in the proper use of condoms" and "allow[ing] more open dialogue in school health classes about 'sexual variants' such as bisexuality and homosexuality" in the district's sexuality education curriculum.
The Board opposed the policy of open dialogue about "sexual variants" based on the current district policy of "'tolerance without advocacy' of alternative lifestyles." One Board member stated that the policy of more open discussion on "sexual variants" was unnecessary unless there is clear evidence of "a gag order being implemented" in the school system. The chairman of the Advisory Committee disagreed, stating that the current policy has a "chilling effect" on important discussions that impact gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.
The Advisory Committee recommended the condom demonstrations for tenth grade health classes based on the "considerable risks of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, that young people face if they engage in sexual behavior without using condoms properly." Board members expressed discomfort with the proposal. One stated that "we can't be everything to everyone...I, as a parent, don't want to give kids the message, 'We can't stop you from having sex, so go ahead and do it.'" Another Board member argued that "people are so afraid of this because it gets into the values argument, we're not trying to do that, we're trying to give them factual information."
The Board ultimately rejected both recommendations made by the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. (11)
Don't ask, don't tell. Material restrictions need not apply only to what students can learn or discuss. They can also apply to what students are asked. Surveys that include questions about students' sexual behaviors often incite controversy, as many who oppose comprehensive sexuality education claim that such questions will "violate" students' "natural modesty" or innocence. It is important to note, however, that such surveys are often conducted to assess student's risk behaviors so that appropriate educational programs can be implemented.
In Palmdale, CA, a school counselor from a non-profit organization was fired after she asked several third and fifth graders in the Palmdale School District to complete a questionnaire. The survey, which was for the counselor's doctoral thesis, included questions about sexual thoughts and suicide. As a result of the incident, The Palmdale School Board is considering stricter rules for future survey questions. (12)
Instituting roadblocks. In recent years, some opponents of comprehensive sexuality education have avoided directly challenging existing programs in favor of instituting administrative roadblocks that make it more difficult to ensure that students have access to comprehensive sexuality education. The most common method of doing this is through the institution of an "opt-in" policy.
Most states and communities have instituted policies allowing parents to remove their children from any sexuality or HIV/STD education course that includes information or messages they find objectionable. These are typically referred to as "opt-out" policies. In contrast, an "opt-in" policy requires parental permission before any student can enroll in any sexuality education program.
Many administrators and educators object to these stricter "opt-in" policies because of the increased administrative burden of contacting all parents. In addition, many feel that lost or forgotten permission slips will prevent numerous students whose parents want them to have sexuality education from enrolling in these courses.
For similar reasons, the Grossmont, CA, School District Board of Trustees rejected a proposal for an "opt-in" policy that would have required written parental consent before students could participate in a sexuality education course. One of several trustees who felt that the "opt-out" policy was inadequate proposed the "opt-in" idea because of "concern [that] students would learn about homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender issues in classrooms or other school activities."
In the past year, only 28 students were "opted-out" of the Grossmont district sexuality education classes. While some viewed this as support for the program, parents and trustees who supported the "opt-in" policy suggested that this was evidence that the "opt-out" notices are "often overlooked or left crumpled at the bottom of a backpack." In contrast, one trustee who opposed the "opt-in" policy said that it is "far more practical for staff to keep track of that small number of students than to manage permission forms from parents of all of the district's 24,000 students." (13)
Mandating messages. Historically, opponents of comprehensive sexuality education have worked to replace such programs with strict abstinence-only-until-marriage programs or to drastically limit the scope and content of all sexuality education courses.
While these tactics remain popular, SIECUS has seen a number of attempts this year to make comprehensive sexuality education resemble strict abstinence-only-until- marriage programs by mandating messages rather than eliminating topics.
For example, legislators in Kansas, Virginia, and Minnesota have attempted to offset classroom discussions on topics such as abortion, pregnancy options, and marriage.
In Kansas, legislators re-introduced FIB 2832, which would have required that any course covering pregnancy-related issues or sexuality to provide instruction on fetal development and abortion. The bill would have required courses to include pictures or realistic drawings of fetuses, as well as discussions on the "probable" sensations of pain to the fetus. The bill, which was opposed by representatives of Kansas Religious Leaders for Choice, the Kansas Choice Alliance, the National Organization for Women, and the Wichita public schools, failed to pass. (14)
In Virginia, HB 1206 was approved by the governor. The bill mandates that any family life education curriculum provide instruction on the benefits of adoption as the preferred choice in the event of an unintended pregnancy. (15)
In another attempt to make sexuality education programs contain those messages more typically found in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, a Minnesota legislator introduced a bill that would have required STD-prevention programs to "stress marriage."
Rep. Sondra Erickson (R) defended her FIB 2660 by saying it was "not an abstinence-only idea" but rather an attempt to add the topic of marriage to already-established programs.
Sex Education for Life--Minnesota, a group that advocates for comprehensive sexuality education legislation, spoke out against the bill, arguing that lessons about marriage have no place in public health programs designed to prevent disease.
Rep. Jim Davnie (D) also opposed the bill and countered it by sponsoring a piece of legislation to create a teen pregnancy and STD-prevention program. (6)
At the end of the Minnesota legislative session, the House voted to table the marriage promotion legislation. No action was taken on the counterproposal.
HAVING IT ALL
In recent years, when a community cannot agree on the focus or messages of sexuality education curricula, supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage have recommended a dual track system.
Under this system, schools simultaneously offer an abstinence-only-until-marriage program and a comprehensive sexuality education course. It is then left up to parents to decide which program their children will attend.
Dual track systems are often implemented to avoid debate about sexuality education. For example, after debating the merits of both types of programs, the West Allis--West Milwaukee, MN, School District tentatively approved a dual track system for the sexuality education program in the tenth grade. The district, which offers an abstinence-based sexuality education program, agreed to create an abstinence-only-until-marriage program during the 2002-2003 school year if at least 15 students enrolled. (17)
The Human Growth and Development Review Committee proposed the idea of adding the abstinence-only-until-marriage program due to parents' objections about the content of the abstinence-based course. One parent who supported an abstinence-only-until-marriage program defended the proposed course from accusations of religious bias by stating that the current program is teaching the religion of humanism, which teaches that sex outside of marriage is acceptable." (18)
It is important to note that communities which have adopted dual track programs have found them very taxing on their resources. For example, Osseo, MN was forced to eliminate sexuality education from earlier grades to provide the funding and staff to run a dual track program in eighth and twelfth grade.
RESTRICTIVE PROGRAMS QUESTIONED
For a variety of reasons, many communities examined the value and effectiveness of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs during the 2001-2002 school year. Some did so after facing high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs while others were confronted with difficult situations such as sexual assault and infant abandonment. While many of these schools have yet to make any significant changes to their sexuality education programs, many parents, educators, and students in these communities have begun an important dialogue.
High teen pregnancy rates. An official from the Polk County, FL, Health Department addressed the School Board regarding the high teen pregnancy rate, especially among youth between the ages of 10 and 14. According to the official, "every two weeks, a child between the ages of 10 and 14 gives birth in [Polk County]...And this only includes those [pregnancies] that actually result in a birth."
The official did not make specific recommendations about actions the Board should take to remedy the situation, and the Board chose to make no changes to the sexuality education program, "preferring to stick with the message that students should refrain from sex to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."
One Board member stated that "as far as the policy of the curriculum is concerned, I'm not ready to say we need to change ours. In Polk, being that it's the center of the Bible Belt, it's really hard to talk about anything but abstinence." The Board chairman claimed that although the issue is important, financial constraints have kept it on the "back-burner."
The Polk County Health Department offers contraceptives, health care, education, and counseling to area teens through the Responsible Adolescent Planning (RAP) program, yet few teens are aware of the services. A registered nurse who works with the RAP program said that staff is prohibited from providing services in the school unless "an individual client's mother requests that a nurse come in and talk to her child." (19)
A teacher at the North Heights Alternative School, which serves pregnant and parenting teens in Amarillo, TX, spoke out against abstinence-only-until-marriage programs mandated by the state after "nearly all her students said that if they knew what [she] had taught them, they could have made different choices about sex and birth control." Because the school serves pregnant or parenting teens, it is exempt from the state mandate and may discuss contraception and prevention methods. (20)
High STD rates. The Health Care Services Department of Collin County, TX, determined that an area spanning only two of the county's ZIP Codes accounted for 70 percent of reported cases of STDs. One of the two areas was characterized as "upscale" and urban while the other was more economically diverse and rural.
Community experts attempted to explain this phenomenon and were able to rule out factors such as population growth and socioeconomic status. The county's medical director pointed out, however, that "a lot of people I see don't practice safe sex consistently" and others suggested that "there may be pressure among certain groups not to have safe sex."
Collin County does not provide a specific course in sexuality education, but topics such as STDs are discussed in biology classes. Real Options for Women, a community-based organization, provides abstinence education in Coffin County schools. The executive director of the organization stated that the STD concentration rates were alarming but felt that they indicated the need for more abstinence-only-until-marriage programming rather than a change of approach to comprehensive sexuality educational. (21)
Sexual activity. In Clayton and Henry Counties, GA, district officials lamented the lack of comprehensive information about sexuality provided in the schools after three Lovejoy Middle School students were suspended for performing a sex act in class. One official pointed to the heavy emphasis on abstinence and the absence of discussion on controversial topics such as homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, and oral sex. She said she was "sad for those students who can't get the information they need because of the restrictions placed on the school's sex education," and that students are "feeling ostracized in school and we're doing nothing to help them." (22)
Sexual assault. Parents in Tacoma, WA, are questioning the integrity of the district's sexuality education program after two reported cases of sexual assault in the last year in the Clover Park High School District. Upon examination, many parents found that the school was "shying away" from controversial topics such as sexual assault in place of physiological discussions about "the birds and the bees." Other controversial issues that were not addressed included homosexuality and abortion.
The state superintendent of pubic instruction points to the lack of state mandates, which allows curriculum decisions at the district level. She added that many districts choose "conservative" sexuality education programs to avoid controversy.
The health course at Clover Park High School, which includes sexuality education, is elective. District officials are now debating whether or not to make the health course a requirement. (23)
Infant abandonment. In Virginia Beach, VA, a newborn infant was found dead in the women's bathroom at First Colonial High School after being abandoned by a sophomore. This was the second case of abandonment by a teen mother in the county within a two month span. Since that time, the community has engaged in discussions about the most effective means of preventing such occurrences.
While many have advocated for increased sexuality education, access to birth control, and information about adoption and abortion, others have advocated stressing abstinence and "stronger rule-setting" by parents. Students have called for more information on the correct use of condoms as well as letting kids know "that they're not alone if they get pregnant." District officials stated, however, that schools are already "doing everything they feel comfortable with and the community feels comfortable with." (24)
WORKING TO SECURE COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAMS
Although the trend toward restricting sexuality education continued throughout the 2001-2002 school year, advocates for comprehensive sexuality education worked with legislators, educators, and parents in numerous states and communities across the country to secure existing comprehensive sexuality education and create new and expanded curricula. This year, young people proved once again that they are willing and able to mobilize to secure the sexual health information and services they feel they need.
Legislators rally for comprehensive sexuality education. In Maine, An Act to Expand Family Life Education Services (LD 1603) was signed into law.
The state has traditionally provided young people with high-quality school-based sexuality education. In fact, its family life educators have worked for 20 years with schools to develop programs that are comprehensive, age appropriate, and medically accurate. In those 20 years, Maine's teen pregnancy rate has decreased over 35 percent, the sharpest decline in the country.
While this tradition has continued, such comprehensive sexuality education was never supported by state law. This meant that advocates in Maine were often faced with legislative challenges from those who opposed such programs. For example, legislation was introduced in Maine in 2000 that would require all sexuality education programs to focus on abstinence.
An Act to Expand Family Life Education Services provides a definition of "family life education" which applies to state education statutes and specifies that such education should be medically accurate, age appropriate, inclusive of information about abstinence and contraception, and be taught from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. The law also expands the state's Family Life Education Services. Unfortunately, due to enormous state budget deficits, no funding is currently attached to the law.
After it passed both houses of the state legislature, Rep. Robert Daigle (R). a co-sponsor of the bill, requested tabling the bill due to alleged procedural mishandling in committee. The allegations were dismissed, and Governor Angus King signed the bill into law shortly thereafter. (25)
Legislation requiring that sexuality education be medically accurate was also introduced in Washington, causing supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to protest. During a hearing held by the Senate Education Committee, "pro-life advocates" expressed their fear that the bill would limit sexuality education to "scientific and medical facts only." A representative from a local abstinence education organization complained that the sexuality education she received growing up "did not tell me that I would feel sad after having sex out of wedlock, it did not tell me that I would feel like a prostitute sometimes after having sex." (26) This bill failed to pass out of committee in either the House or the Senate. (27)
Arizona took this strategy a step further this year when legislation was proposed to strengthen the state's current medical accuracy requirements by defining standards. This legislation proposed that Arizona schools teach only information defined as medically accurate by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the American Medical Association. Arizona has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country; the state provides only abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
This legislation was strongly opposed by The Center for Arizona Policy, an organization that claims to "battle organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and gay rights groups that seek to destroy traditional families and traditional moral values." (28) While debate took place in the legislature, one state senator who opposed the bill "launched into a debate over sex acts and sex devices" as "children and adults in the gallery watched and listened, some of them perhaps shocked by the level of discourse." After 45 minutes, the sponsor of the bill believed that there was insufficient support for its passage in the House and withdrew. (29)
Communities rally to resist restrictions. When the health curriculum came up for review in the Anoka-Hennepin, MN, School District, controversy arose over whether to continue providing the abstinence-based curriculum or to adopt an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach. This community experienced a similar controversy during the last review in 1995-96.
The Health Curriculum Review Committee recommended that the school continue to provide an abstinence-based curriculum. In contrast, some parents felt that their children were receiving mixed messages through this curriculum and pointed out that the Board had decided to explore an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach six years previously but had never instituted such a course. Supporters of the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach, upset with the Health Curriculum Review Committee's decision, suggested that this committee was not representative of the community because it contained more faculty than parents. Despite these complaints, the School Board, with a vote of 10 to 4, decided to continue with the abstinence-based course as recommended by the Health Curriculum Review Committee. (30)
In Lockport, NY, the committee appointed by the Wilson Central School District to review the fifth grade puberty education program and mike recommendations to the School Board deadlocked over whether to continue the program. At issue was how to present the topics of sexual intercourse, masturbation, homosexuality, and abortion.
The puberty education course, a three-day program facilitated by a self-employed educator, was previously taught in the district. Several parents attending the committee meeting expressed support for the program. However, other parents voiced their concerns about the issue of sexual intercourse. One parent wondered if "telling a 10 year old about sexual intercourse might make them more likely to engage in it" and wanted to know why "they don't just teach abstinence." The teacher told the committee and all parents present at the meeting that she encourages students to discuss controversial issues such as masturbation, homosexuality, and abortion with their families.
The Board dissolved the committee after a split vote was reported and decided to continue to provide the puberty education course. (31)
Communities work toward comprehensive sexuality education. In a reversal of a trend, one community urged its schools to keep morality and values out of sexuality education in favor of factual information. After Nears of research and debate, the Spring Green, WI, School Board unanimously accepted a resolution establishing guidelines for a human sexuality curriculum in the River Valley schools. The guidelines instruct teachers to "emphasize abstinence as the primary message when discussing human sexuality" and to teach fact rather than opinion when discussing contraception. Although students will learn of the "various beliefs related to these sensitive topics," teachers must discuss contraception "without debate over the values and/or beliefs of having premarital sexual involvement." (32)
In Raleigh, NC, the Wake School Health Advisory Council adopted recommendations for changes to its Healthful Living curriculum, including implementation of a comprehensive family life curriculum, expansion of the high school elective health education courses, and support for staff to better serve students in crisis situations.
The Wake County Public School System has provided abstinence-only-until-marriage education since 1995, when North Carolina General Statute 115C-81 was passed. This legislation, which requires factually accurate information, states that before school-based sexuality education can teach anything other than a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage program, the local Board of Education must hold a public hearing. The district must also make all instructional materials available for review by parents or legal guardians at least 30 days before the public hearing and 30 days after the hearing. Approximately 12 of the 117 school districts in the state have taken these steps and currently offer comprehensive sexuality education.
In order to explore the possibility of changing sexuality education in their community, Wake County created an Advisory Council appointed by the superintendent and the Board of Education. It consisted of representatives in the areas of education, health, medicine, law, religion, media, and business, as well as parents and community members. One member urged limiting the comprehensive sexuality education program to an elective class in both middle and high schools. Only two members voted to keep the current abstinence-only-until-marriage program.
The Advisory Council made its recommendations to the Wake County Public School Board, where approximately 200 parents and community members protested. One group from an area church arrived in white t-shirts to symbolize sexual purity. According to the School Board, a decision on the recommendations may not come until this fall. If approved, the Board will schedule a public hearing before a final vote. (33) SIECUS will continue to monitor this situation.
After reviewing the statistics on sexual activity in the Orangeburg, SC, Consolidated School District 5, the science and health specialist recommended that students receive age-appropriate reproductive health education prior to the sixth grade. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey given to District 5 students indicated that many students had initiated sexual intercourse at age 11 or younger. The survey found wide variation across the district's racial/ethnic groups. For example, 5 percent of white males, 7 percent of white females, 7.7 percent of black females, and 21.3 percent of black males reported having had sexual intercourse by 11 or younger. The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy also stated that a girl between the ages of 10 and 19 gets pregnant every 48 minutes in South Carolina.
State law allows family life education in grades six through eight even though local school districts may offer such instruction to younger grades. All but one of the members of the Advisory Committee for Comprehensive Health Education recommended that the district provide such a course to fourth and fifth graders. (34)
Students rally for comprehensive sexuality education. During the 2001-02 school year, young people proved once again that they are often their own best advocates.
In communities across the country, students were motivated by high rates of STDs and teen pregnancy, poor contraceptive use amongst their peers, and new-found knowledge that their friends were engaging in unprotected sexual behaviors.
Armed with these facts and statistics, teens spoke eloquently in their own communities for the need to increase education and services relating to sexual health.
In Santa Ana, CA, the teen advocacy group "Speak Out!" addressed the Santa Ana Unified School Board asking that the district revamp its "loosely structured" sexuality education program. Motivated by the city's high teen pregnancy rates, the students spent 18 months researching the program and drafting recommendations.
Abstinence is stressed in middle school science courses and high school health classes, but the district lacks a uniform sexuality education curriculum. As a result, the quality and quantity of information that is provided to students is highly varied. The students requested the creation of a curriculum that includes information on abstinence, prevention methods, and family communication. Board members agreed that the lack of uniformity in sexuality education was indeed problematic but were unable to promise that a newly created curriculum would include all of the topics the students had requested. (35)
Students in San Mateo County, CA, also responded to "alarmingly high" rates of teen pregnancy and STDs by advocating for the expansion of sexuality education courses and the institution of a condom availability program.
The proposal asked for the extension of sexuality education courses beyond the ninth and tenth grade to the eleventh and twelfth grades. The Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees approved the proposal, and, according to the president of the Parent-Teacher Association, most parents were supportive of the decision. (36)
In Modesto, CA, the School District rejected students' request to bring speakers on teen pregnancy, abortion, and birth control to their human relations class, which focuses on diversity and conflict resolution.
The district office ordered the teacher to cancel the program despite the fact that she received permission slips from 34 of 35 families. District officials claimed that the class was not "the proper venue" for such a discussion because human sexuality "belongs in health class."
The students claim that their required health class "glosses over" sexuality and focuses on physiological issues rather than social pressures and personal beliefs. A sophomore at Modesto High School urged the school to address the issue head-on because "there are just too many students out there having sex." Another student asked, "Is preaching abstinence effective? Ask the teens."
Students voted unanimously to address the School Board and challenge the district's decision. Unfortunately, district officials "were not swayed by the arguments."(37)
THE ROAD AHEAD
The 2001-2002 school year saw a continued trend toward restricting sexuality education. Whether by instituting a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage program, eliminating materials, or preventing discussions, communities across the country continued to limit the information and skills that their young people received.
Yet, this school year provided advocates of comprehensive sexuality education with much-needed hope as communities began once again to engage in important dialogue relating to sexuality education. Many questioned the value and efficacy of their efforts after facing troubling situations such as sexual assault, high teen pregnancy rates, and large numbers of STDs. While not all communities opted to expand their current programs, the dialogue alone represents a positive step for sexuality education.
Most encouraging, however, is the fact that young people took leading roles in the effort to implement comprehensive programs. They mobilized in response to high rates of STDs and teen pregnancy, researched effective prevention programs, and confronted resistant administrations.
Young people's struggles and successes are a reminder that teens are those who are ultimately affected by the decisions that states and communities make regarding sexuality education and that it is critical to include young people in all advocacy efforts.
Interestingly, debates relating to sexuality education on the federal level mirrored what was seen in states and communities this year. While the federal government continued to support restrictive sexuality education by increasing funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, debates over these unproven programs have finally begun as part of the overall reauthorization of welfare reform.
At the same time, advocates for comprehensive sexuality education are working to proactively support broader education by introducing the Family Life Education Act (HR 3469). This legislation would provide funding for medically accurate, age-appropriate programs that teach about both abstinence and contraception.
Whether on the federal, state, or local levels, advocates for comprehensive sexuality education can feel confident that the dialogue has expanded over this past school year and that their continued work and perseverance will eventually ensure that all young people have access to the information they need to make healthy decisions.
(1.) State of New Jersey 209th Legislature, "AIDS Prevention Act of 1999," http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2000/Bills/a1000/792_i1.htm
(2.) D. Kinney, "DiFrancesco Signs Sex Ed Abstinence, Nurse Overtime Bills," The Star-Ledger, Jan. 3, 2002.
(3.) W. Peal, "Schools Adopt Sex Ed Revisions: Despite Concerns Trustees Are Unanimous," Clarion-Eccentric, Rochester, MI, Jan. 17, 2002; J. Grossman, "Parents Speak Out for Abstinence-Based Sex Ed," Clarion-Eccentric, Rochester, MI, Dec. 20, 2001; A. Lee, "Parents Seek Change in Sex Ed," Detroit News, Detroit, MI, Dec. 18, 2001; A. Lee, "Sex Ed Changes Ready for Vote," Detroit News, Detroit, MI, Jan. 15, 2002; R. Wightman, "Board Approves Sex Ed Curriculum," The Oakland Press Pontiac, MI, Jan. 15, 2002.
(4.) K. Pesznecker, "Sex Book Should Stay Put, Panel Says: Parents, Librarians Testify About `It's Perfectly Normal,"' Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage, AK, Sept. 19, 2001; K. Pesznecker, "Comeau: Book Too Much for Grade School: School Board Will Hear Public Testimony About `It's Perfectly Normal,"' Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage, AK, Sept. 19, 2001; Kaiser Family Foundation, "Anchorage School Board Votes to Restrict Sex Ed Book in Grade Schools After State Representative Mails 'Explicit' Book Illustrations to Voters," Kaiser Family Foundation Daily Reproductive Health Report, Oct. 9, 2001.
(5.) C. Lawrence, "Board Deadlocks on Sex Ed Items," The Post and Courier, Aug. 3, 2001.
(6.) "Plan Targets State's Role on Sex-Ed Material," Associated Press, Deseretnews.com, Dec. 25, 2001.
(7.) "Teen Theatre Troupe Performs Sex Ed Skits," Times-Standard, Feb. 27, 2002.
(8.) D. Gearino, "AIDS Talk: Board Splits," The Keene Sentinel, Keene, NH, Oct. 9,2001.
(9.) SIECUS, January Legislative Report, www.siecus.org/policy/legislative/legis0001.html
(10.) Virginia House of Delegates, "HB 88 Crimes Against Nature; School Board Policies," www.leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?021+sum+HB88
(11.) B. Schulte, "Condoms Stay Under Wraps in Schools," Washington Post-Regional Edition, Mar. 19, 2002; K. Hille, "Condom Training Urged in Schools" The Montgomery Journal, Mar. 13, 2002.
(12.) R. Fausser, "Parents Are Asking for Answers," Los Angeles Times (City Edition), Feb. 10, 2002.
(13.) J. Spielvogel, "Grossmont Rejects 'Opt-In' Sex Ed Proposal," The San Diego Union-Tribune, Oct. 12, 2001.
(14.) Kansas State Legislature, "Supplemental Note on House Bill No. 2832," www.kslegislature.org/supplemental/2002/SN2832.pdf; Kansas State Legislature, "Full History of Bill 2832," www.kslegislature.org/cgi-bin/billtrack/index.cgi
(15.) SIECUS, April Legislative Report, www.siecus.org/policy/legislative/legis0004.html
(16.) Capitol Notebook, "Sex Education," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Feb. 15, 2002.
(17.) "Abstinence Program Approved," District News, West Allis-West Milwaukee, WI, www.wawm.kl2.wi.us/News/abstinence_program_ approved.htm
(18.) N. Bialek, "Parents Offer Differing Opinions on Sex Ed: School Board Considering Abstinence Only Sex Ed," West Allis Star, Aug. 30, 2001; "Board to Sec Proposal for Class on Abstinence," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 13, 2001.
(19.) D. Alberto, "Polk's Teen Births Deliver No. 10 Rank," The Tampa Tribune, Nov. 26, 2001.
(20.) B. Wilson, "Knowledge Is Power," Amarillo Globe-News, Feb. 4, 2002.
(21.) M. Norris, "Two ZIP Codes in County Have Majority of STD Cases," Piano Star-Courier, Dec. 14, 2002.
(22.) T. Trice, "School's Sex Education Emphasizes Abstinence," Daily Herald, Mar. 17, 2002.
(23.) C. Nguyen, "The Ongoing Saga of Sex Ed," The News Tribune, Apr. 9, 2002.
(24.) S. White, "Sex Education Still Looks Difficult for Schools," The Virginian-Pilot, Mar. 20, 2002; E. Simpson, "Agencies See Baby's Death as a Chance to Reach Out," The Virginian-Pilot, Mar. 22, 2002.
(25.) G. Murphy," Call for Inquiry Delays Sex Ed Bill," Portland Press Herald, Apr. 2, 2002.
(26.) T. McGuire, "Abstinence Education Bill Faulted for Unbalanced View," The Catholic Northwest Progress, Feb. 7, 2002.
(27.) Washington State Legislature, "Summary Page for Senate Bill 6506," www.leg.wa.gov/wsladm/billinfo/dspBillSummary.cfm? billnumber=6506
(28.) The Center for Arizona Policy, "CAP'S Mission," www.cenazpol.org/html/mission.html; "Bizarre," Arizona Daily Star, May 4, 2002; SIECUS, April Legislative Report, http://www.siecus.org/policy/legislative/legis0000.html
(29.) "Bizarre," Arizona Daily Star, May 4, 2002; SIECUS, April Legislative Report, www.siecus.org/policy/legislative/legis000.html
(30.) B. Johnson, "Sex Education Arises Again in District 11," Champlin-Dayton (MN) Press, Aug. 7, 2001.
(31.) C. Richardson, "Sex Education Committee Deadlocked," Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Lockport, NY, Nov. 6, 2001; Editorial Board, "Wilson School District Made Right Decision to Keep Program," Lockport Union-Sun & Journal.
(32.) D. Giffey, "Tax Rate Lowered in 2002 School District Budget," Home News, Spring Green, WI, Nov. 7, 2001.
(33.) WRAL.com, "Wake County Parents Protest School System's Expanded Sex Education Plan," www.wral.com/family/1438977/ detail.html
(34.) L. Hendren, "Hot-button Issues Top Packed District 5 Agenda," The Times & Democrat, Orangeburg, SC, Aug. 28, 2001; L. Hendren, "Teaching Kids About Sex," The Times & Democrat, Orangeburg, SC, Aug. 19, 2001.
(35.) T. Salinas, "Santa Ana Teens Seek Sex-Ed Policy," The Orange County (CA) Register, Oct. 24, 2001.
(36.) T. S. Mills-Faraudo, "Woodside Considers Condom Handout," San Mateo County (CA) Times, Feb. 6, 2002.
(37.) S. Herenden, "Students Sound Off on Sex-Ed," Modbee.com, May 7, 2002.
RELATED ARTICLE: CHALLENGING ABSTINENCE-ONLY-UNTIL-MARRIAGE: ACLU SUES LOUISIANA GOVERNOR'S PROGRAM
Louisiana is home to one of the most extensive statewide abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The Governor's Program on Abstinence (GPA) produces and promotes an abstinence-only curriculum for seventh grade public school students, runs GPA clubs for high school students, and operates a clearinghouse center/Web site.
(See www.abstinenceedu.com for more information.) (1)
The program, which is funded with Title V Section 510(b) abstinence-only-until-marriage money at the rate of $1.6 million per year for five years, was created by Governor Mike Foster in 1998. The seventh grade curriculum is currently used in 20 parishes throughout Louisiana and has reached approximately 10,000 seventh grade students.
This past May, the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) filed suit against Governor Foster and Dan Richey, state coordinator of the GPA, alleging that the GPA "has a history and ongoing practice of distributing public abstinence-education dollars in a manner that advances religion. The GPA itself, at official GPA events and in official GPA documents, has promoted religious precepts. It has also funded for many years, and continues to fund, organizations and individuals that convey religious messages and otherwise promote religion in the context of their GPAfunded programming?'
The lawsuit provides the following examples of current GPA grantees who promote religious principles:
* The Rapides Station Community Ministries reported that it had "hosted a back-to-school 'Youth Revival,' where the Reverend Roger Layton 'proclaim[ed] God's Word with power as to why we should live pure and Holy. He made it clear that abstinence is the only way. There were many testimonies and pledges [during] the week of revival. Some promise[d] to become members of the Abstinence Club at their school."
* The Crisis Pregnancy Help Center of Slidell and Community Christian Concern uses its funding to offer the "Passion 4 Purity" program. One participant in the program wrote that "I have matured so much in my walk with Christ since [I] have been in 'Passion 4 Purity.' The ministry has had an impact so deeply upon my life.... God cares about your purity!!"
* The Just Say "Whoa" theatre troupe's promotional materials state that "The Just Say 'Whoa' Players uses [sic] a format that is hard--hitting, truth--based, entertaining, and Christ-centered....Our belief is that sexual activity outside the commitment of marriage is offensive to the Lord we serve and should not be condoned or encouraged?'
In one skit entitled "A New Heart," "Narrator #1" states: "God says if we will just ask Him, He will forgive us and remember our sins no more. He will make us white as snow. He will give you a new heart and a clean spirit. You can make the commitment today to save yourself from this point on. Even more important than having some of yourself you have saved to give to your marriage partner--is having a relationship with God unhindered by sexual sin." (2)
On July 25, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the GPA illegally used federal money to promote religious messages. In its ruling, the court ordered the CPA to cease and desist from disbursing GPA funds to organizations or individuals that convey religious messages or otherwise advance religion in any way in the course of any event supported in whole or in part by GPA funds."
In response to the ruling, the director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project said that "we are pleased that the court has recognized that using public money to promote religious beliefs violates the basic principle of religious liberty. Unfortunately, abstinence-only programs have a long history of crossing the line between the religious and the secular. Today's decision should stand as a wake-up call that this practice is unacceptable." (3)
(1.) Abstinenceedu.com, "About the Program," www.abstinenceedu.com/f0.cfm?n=1&s=0
(2.) ACLU of LA vs. Gov. Mike Foster, Dan Richey, "Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction," www.aclu.org/court/foster.pdf
(3.) "ACLU Hails Federal Court's Decision to Halt Taxpayer Financing of Religion in Abstinence-Only Programs," ACLU Freedom Network News, July 25, 2002.
THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT
The Eagle Forum, a conservative organization that supports abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, publishes a brochure entitled A Student's Guide to Nosy Questions That Your School Should Not Ask You. This brochure instructs students not to answer any personal questions about their behavior or that of their family members.
For example, it says:
"Sometimes your school may ask you to answer nosy questions about your personal life, your attitudes, feelings and opinions, your family, or your friends. You do not have to answer these questions!...Do not answer these nosy questions because --
* They are none of the school's business,
* They may be embarrassing to you or your family,
* They invite nosy snooping by school personnel into your family and friends' personal lives.
You have a right to privacy about your personal attitudes, opinions, feelings, relationships, and actions outside of school. Don't answer any of these questions even if the school tells you the answers will be kept secret or confidential because it is easy for the school to identify your answers.
Here are some examples of nosy questions that your school should not ask you - and which you should not answer.
Your sexual behavior
* How old were you the first time you had sexual intercourse?
* What kind of birth control do you most often use?
* Have you ever been pregnant?
* When you daydream about sex, do you think about (a) males, (b) females, (c) both?
* Do you consider yourself a heterosexual or a homosexual?
* Do you know of a place to go to see a doctor, nurse or counselor without your parents knowing about it? (1)
(1.) Eagle Forum, "A Students Guide To: Nosy Questions Your School Should Not Ask You," www.eagleforum.org/educate /nosy/nosy_q.html
OPPONENTS OF COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAMS RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD
Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education programs often forego advocating as community members or parents, choosing the more effective route of implementing change by running for School Board positions.
In Toledo, OH, one parent was so outraged that the sexuality education program in the school district included discussions about homosexuality that she decided to run for the Board. She declared that "they're coming out of the closet and I'm coming out saying I'm opposed to it." She supported an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach, proclaiming her faith in "what the Bible states in regard to sexual purity, which clearly states that sex outside of marriage is wrong."
She also explained that her daughter, a fifth grader, was home schooled for a year and was sent to a parochial school because of the public school district's sexuality education program. Her goal was to see schools return to the basics of "reading, writing, 'rithmetic."
The candidate was forced to defend herself against allegations of homophobia when the Leadership Fund of the local Chamber of Commerce, who had given her a $500 grant for her campaign, questioned her about a letter she wrote to local clergy about a "hidden agenda" of "homosexual activists, radical feminists, abortion advocates, and haters of Christianity."
The candidate ultimately lost her bid for election.
S. Svoboda, "Board Hopeflil Berry Criticizes Sex Education," The Blade, Oct. 22,2001; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, "Toledo Public Schools Board Hopeful Explains Controversial www.glsen.org/templates/news/record.html?section=12&record=1051
MOTHER IN BRADENTON, FL, CONTACTS SIECUS ABOUT STENZEL SPEECH
Earlier this year, SIECUS assisted a mother in Bradenton, FL, who contacted us with concerns about a presentation her daughter attended at school that featured Pam Stenzel, a national abstinence-only-until-marriage and anti-choice speaker.
SIECUS provided this parent with detailed information about Ms. Stenzel's program, which consistently presents a fear-based message, uses inaccurate statistics about STDs, exaggerates condom failure rates, and is clearly biased against abortion.
After bringing her story to the press and contacting local organizations to assist in her efforts, this parent tracked down a Florida statute that requires that all health education, including that provided by guest speakers, provide medically accurate information. Once they were informed of this statute, the Bradenton School Board assured the parent that that it would not invite Ms. Stenzel to speak again.
LUBBOCK YOUTH COMMISSION TURNS ADVOCATE
The Lubbock Youth Commission, a group created by the city to "give local youth a voice," focused almost exclusively this year on sexuality education and its role in reducing the county's high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.
The group spent the 2001-2002 school year advocating for the Lubbock Independent School District (LISD) to replace its abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education program with a more comprehensive approach.
The LISD currently offers an abstinence-only-until-marriage program based on Texas Education Association guidelines which "heavily promote abstinence." Texas law requires the teaching of abstinence as the "preferred choice of behavior for unmarried people of school age." Schools are allowed, but not required, to teach about contraception. In addition, they may not distribute condoms to students.
The teen pregnancy rate in Lubbock County remains the highest in the state and is almost 10 percent higher than the state average. Lubbock County also has the highest teen rate for STDs in Texas. The Lubbock County Youth Commission asserted that a comprehensive sexuality education program would help reverse this trend.
Raising Awareness. The Lubbock Youth Council presented its views on sexuality education in many community venues, including a presentation to the City Council. They also ensured that the topic was discussed at length during a "Teen Town Hall Meeting." The panel of local students, School Board members, government officials, and other community leaders was sponsored by a local newspaper as part of the "Make Kids Count 2001" campaign.
Lubbock Youth Council members persisted in questioning the panel about the LISD sexuality education policy even after the student moderator repeatedly attempted to end these questions. In reference to the high teen pregnancy and STD rates, a teen leader of the Lubbock Youth Commission asked the panel, "How is the LISD going to combat this? What are they going to do to save the lives of Lubbock youth who are the future of this community?" The Mayor of Lubbock responded to another teen's inquiry by saying that sexuality education "is a very controversial issue. It will be dealt with at some time in the very near future. To what degree, I don't know."
The Community Reacts. The topic of sexuality education received mixed reactions within the community. LISD officials defended their abstinence-only-until-marriage approach to sexuality education while other community members challenged its effectiveness in light of the county's high teen pregnancy and STD rates.
In response to concerns, LISD officials held a meeting to review the district's sexuality education curriculum and policies. Teachers and nurses answered questions from students.
A student member of the LISD Health Advisory Committee who had recently become a teen parent spoke at the meeting about her experience as a student. She claimed that she could not "recall really touching upon the subject of teen pregnancy in....health class." She then said that "students need to be given the facts straight up. I don't think there's any other way...."
On a separate occasion, the Mayor of Lubbock expressed her concern over the high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs, stating that "what we're doing in this community is not working."
Roadblocks. While many supported the Youth Council's efforts to secure comprehensive sexuality education, some youth and adults felt that the Council should also focus on other important issues facing the community.
Toward the end of the school year, both the Youth Council's mayor and policy chairman resigned, citing "pressure from adults" as their reason for leaving. The Youth Council's mayor stated that "as long as we're with the city, our point won't get across." The policy chairman said that "they're undermining what we're trying to get accomplished."
The chairman of the Adult Advisory Board to the Youth Commission left the meeting with the Youth Council's mayor and policy chairman and was later removed from his position by the remaining members of the Adult Advisory Board. He had favored allowing the youth to determine the issues on which they wanted to focus and had encouraged them to assert themselves in their advocacy for comprehensive sexuality education.
The remaining members of the Lubbock Youth Commission vowed to get "back on track," stating that "concentrating on one issue has hurt the group." The departing members of the Commission hope to establish their own youth coalition to continue the advocacy efforts for comprehensive sexuality education.
Reference--B. Williams and C. Ehrenfeld, "Sex in the Classroom: Should Students Know More Than Abstinence Education Teaches?" Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, Dec. 3, 2001; R. Glass, "Sex Education Hot Topic for Teens," Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, Dec. 14, 2001; R. Glass, "Youth Commission to Get Its Say on Sex," Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, Feb. 22, 2002; R. Glass, "LISD Takes Step into Minefield of Sex Education," Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, Jan. 21, 2002; R. Glass, "Teen Mom Advocates Blunt Facts on Sex," Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, Jan. 22, 2002; R. Glass, "Teens Resign from Youth Commission in Dispute over Sex Education Policy," Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, Mar. 6, 2002.
FREDERICK, MD: ONE COMMUNITY, MANY CONTROVERSIES
The school year began with a debate after the Family Life Advisory Committee and several community members proposed two changes to the sexuality education program; one involved using abstinence pledge cards as part of the existing program; the second would have instituted a new abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education course.
Conflict With State Law. The School Board rejected both proposals on the basis of Maryland state law, which requires that contraception be taught in schools. In response to the decision, the Family Life Advisory Committee noted that any health teacher who wants to host a speaker on abstinence-only outside of marriage is welcome to do so.
Approximately one month after this decision, the Frederick County School Board discussed changing the definition of abstinence in the district's curriculum to remove the reference to marriage. Abstinence was originally defined as "appropriate behavior before marriage."
One Board member explained that the reference to marriage was unrealistic given that so many people today delay marriage until their mid-to-late twenties. Several others expressed concern that linking sex and marriage is "teaching religious values that are not universally shared." They suggested replacing the reference to marriage with the term "mature, monogamous and committed relationship."
While several Board members voiced their discontent with the removal of marriage from the definition, the Board ultimately voted 6 to 1 to adopt compromise language stating that "abstinence from sexual intercourse is a healthy, safe, and responsible decision for adolescents," and that "there are consequences to becoming sexually active."
Approximately two weeks later, the Board reversed its decision and adopted a new policy The reversal was made after "angry public response," much of which, according to Board members, came from people who do not live in Frederick County. One Board member who supported the decision to remove marriage from the definition of abstinence received an e-mail stating: "I hope your daughter catches AIDS from having sex before marriage." Another Board member received an e-mail stating that "she should be burned at the stake."
The new policy that instructs teachers to "identify abstinence as the surest way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and as the appropriate behavior for students." It goes on to state that "the ideal in our society is abstinence until marriage" and advises teachers that, if questioned, they should "emphasize the importance of delaying sexual intercourse until [the student is] in a position to take responsibility for children, which is best done in a stable, two-parent family."
Proposed language instructing teachers to "note that once they [students] are adults and no longer within the jurisdiction of the school system, they are free to make their own decisions" was not adopted in the new policy.
"Dual Track" Considered. Later in the school year, the Board revisited the idea of instituting an abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education course by proposing a dual-track system. At the request of several Board members, the president asked the district's curriculum specialist to find out if it was legally possible to offer an abstinence-only-until-marriage course in addition to the existing abstinence-based program. The president warned that even if a dual-track system is legal, the district might not be able to afford to offer it.
Although the legality of offering an additional abstinence-only-until-marriage program was never determined, the Board effectively rejected the proposal when it approved the Family Life Advisory Committee's recommendation that the county schools offer "only their current curriculum, which includes materials on contraceptives and safe sex." A Board member who supported the abstinence-only-until-marriage course said he "was not through with the issue.
Father-Son Opinions. As the school year drew to a close, the issue of sexuality education arose once more when the Board president's son volunteered to serve as a student member on the Family Life Advisory Committee. While his father supports a comprehensive approach, the student supports the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach, claiming that "students are not going to take you seriously if you tell them what their alternatives are." He plans to share his stance with the advisory committee, but has yet to communicate his position to his friends because "they wouldn't listen to me."
Reference-J. Robb, "State Requires 'Comprehensive' Sex Ed Curriculum, Not Abstinence-Only," The Frederick-News Post, Frederick, MD, Oct. 17, 2001; "Abstinence Plan May Change," The Montgomery Journal, Rockville, MD, Oct. 18, 2001; "Panel Abstains On Students' No-Sex Pledge," The Washington Times, Oct. 18,2001; "Sex Ed Teachers in Md. County Can't Urge Students To Wait Until Marriage," Fox News, Nov. 16, 2001; J. Robb, "Board Takes Marriage Out of Sex Ed," The Frederick-News Post, Nov. 16, 2001; J. Robb, "School Board to Discuss Sex Ed, Abstinence Again," The News, Nov. 28, 2001; J. Robb, "Marriage Back in Sex Education," The Frederick News-Post, Nov. 29, 2001; J. Robb, "Parents Pushing Their Cause in Sex Education," The News, Dec. 1, 2001; J. Robb, "Board Rejects Offering Abstinence-Only Sex Course," The News, Jan. 10, 2002; J. Robb, "Sex Ed Advisors Get New Advisor- a 13-year old," The Frederick News-Post, Feb. 20, 2002.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORTS ON ABSTINENCE-ONLY-UNTIL-MARRIAGE
U.S. programs teaching teenagers to "just say no" to sex before marriage are threatening adolescent health by censoring basic information about how to prevent HIV/AIDS, says the Human Rights Watch in a new report titled Ignorance Only: HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, and Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Programs in the United States.
The 47-page report focuses on federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Texas, where advertising campaigns convey the message that teenagers should not use condoms because they don't work. Some school-based programs in Texas do not mention condoms at all.
Federal health agencies share the broad scientific consensus that condoms, when used correctly, are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV.Yet the U.S. government currently spends more than $100 million each year on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which cannot by law "promote or endorse" condoms or provide instruction regarding their use.
For more information, contact Rebecca Schleifer, Human Rights Watch researcher, at 212/216-1273 or go to the Human Rights Watch web site at hrw.org/reports/2002/usa0902/
ABSTINENCE IN COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE NATION
The Manitowoc County Abstinence Coalition teamed with area florists to distribute True Love Waits abstinence pledge cards with corsages and boutonnieres sold to students attending local high school proms. Each card states "Prom...a night to remember not to regret." According to one participating florist, "All the card is is [sic] a little, subtle reminder; there are consequences to your actions."
C. Mathews, "Lakeshore Florists Urge Abstinence," Herald Times Reporter, Manitowoc, WI, Mar. 26, 2002.
The Crisis Pregnancy Support Center in Muskogee, OK, sponsored the fourth annual Spring Abstinence Tea, where 840 girls from 21 schools were told about the "three whys and a how" of abstinence. The three "whys" include pregnancy, STDs, and mental anguish. The "how" involves establishing a line and "defending it."
A featured speaker from To Know Christ Ministries told the audience that "girls lose their virginity before marriage because of peer and media pressure, low self- esteem and sexual attraction." After sharing that she was a virgin on her wedding night, the speaker told them that teens should refrain from premarital sexual activity "because they will lose their ability to bond with other people if they have sex with multiple partners."
She ended by offering the following retort for the girls to use with boyfriends who are pressuring them into sexual activity: "Don't let the screen door whack you where the good Lord cracked you."
R. Bradshaw, "Eighth-Grade Girls Learn How to Say 'No,"' Muskogee (OK) Daily Phoenix, Apr. 4, 2002.
LEHIGH VALLEY, PA
The Lehigh Valley, PA, Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy provides the CHOICES abstinence-only-until-marriage program to 9- through 14-year-olds in the Lehigh Valley School District, The program, which is funded by the state, offers students the opportunity to sign abstinence pledge cards.
While approximately 40 percent of Lehigh students did choose to make the pledge, many others declined. One eighth grader ripped up his pledge card and refused to submit it, stating "I won't sign it because I'm going to run my life the way I want to, but I'm not going to run out tomorrow and have sex either." Several female students said that if they didn't sign the cards their reputations would suffer, and one stated that "we have to sign these even if we don't believe in them."
G. Marshall, "Teens Get No Sex Talk," The Morning Call Online, Lehigh Valley, PA, May 9, 2002,
SAN ANTONIO, TX
In San Antonio, TX, two radio disc jockeys, "Danny B" and "Rude Dogg Garcia" speak at community events about sexual abstinence in an attempt to lower the city's teen pregnancy rate, which is almost twice the national rate. In addition, their radio station, which plays hip-hop music and captures the highest ratings among listeners 12 to 34 years of age, ran public service announcements from "Not Me, Not Now" "extolling the virtues of sexual abstinence" free of charge for several months.
Some have questioned the credibility of the campaign because the station's format includes many songs with lyrics "that tell listeners to 'get freaky,' encourage 'late-night loving,' or chant about the 'need to get high to function," and Rude Dogg left one speaking engagement to appear at a local bar as a celebrity judge for a "'Naughty School Girl' outfit" contest.
A. Nazareno, "Hip on Conduct," San Antonio (TX) Express-News, Jan. 15, 2002.
PANAMA CITY, FL
In Panama City, FL, the wife of a youth minister planned "a devotional on purity" for girls in the congregation which involved a trip to a local bridal boutique. The girls were allowed to try on wedding dresses to "promote the idea of abstinence," and each girl had her picture taken in a wedding dress "so that she would have a reminder of the commitment to not have sex before marriage." One girl took off her wedding dress and claimed "Ok, I'm waiting for him."
T. Quimby, "Abstinence Addressed," The News Herald, Panama City, FL, Nov. 3, 2001.
LICKING COUNTY, OH
In Licking County, OH, the Department of Health provides abstinence-only-until-marriage education to area schools with the help of federal welfare reform funding. The high school course consists of five lessons presented over five days, while the middle school course consists of three lessons presented over three days.
During one lesson in the high school course, a "graphic" STD slide presentation is shown, and "boys and girls are separated to preserve the modesty of the students." During another lesson, male presenters discuss the "importance of a father figure in a home setting."
For middle school students, one lesson is taught by peer educators and another by an adult abstinence educator. During the third lesson, students watch a video produced by Focus on the Family, No Apologies--The Truth About Life, Love and Sex.
C. Bradshaw, "Abstinence Is Message at SOPC Banquet," Times- Gazette, Licking County, OH, Apr. 20, 2002.
In Alliance, NE, the group Alliance for Teens, along with an advisory council composed of high school students, organized events for Chastity Week at Alliance High School. During Chastity Week, which "immediately followed Abstinence Week," the group distributed abstinence t-shirts and posters designed by teens, locker mirrors with abstinence promotion messages printed on them, candy mints that said "Sex is 'Mint' for Marriage," and Tootsie Rolls that said "Don't take your tootsie for a roll until you're married" on the wrapper.
According to the registered nurse who coordinates the abstinence program for Alliance Public Schools, teens who are not sexually active "not only are kept safe from STDs and teen pregnancies, but also have a healthier emotional and psychological outlook to marriage and life in general."
R. Gonzales, "Risky Behavior?--Heathy Solutions," Alliance Times-Herald, Alliance, NE, Feb. 12, 2002.
In Celina, OH, the Project Wait "sexual abstinence" course is taught in three area middle schools in the seventh and eighth grades. Part of the five-to-nine day course involves students trying on an "empathy belly" to mimic a rune-month pregnancy. One teacher stated that "the point is really brought home" when students wearing the belly are instructed to go to the blackboard to solve a math problem "with their back to the class." The rest of the class is then told to "make comments about the person and how other people feel about them." They may say "something like 'slut' or 'fat.'" The instructor then explains that this "is what pregnant girls hear everyday."
J. Painter, "Local Pupils Learn Value of Waiting," The Daily Standard, Feb. 19, 2002.
Jason Evert is an abstinence-only-until-marriage educator who speaks to 10,000 to 20,000 students a month across the country about the "importance of self respect and abstinence." Evert, who is also a speaker for the Louisiana's Governor's Program on Abstinence, was inspired to speak about chastity after attending a former girlfriend's wedding, where, "as he watched the groom lift her veil to kiss his new bride, (he) remembered their intimate moments together and was embarrassed."
Evert presented a "frank talk about chastity" at York, NE, High School, warning students about "the danger of chlamydia, the second biggest STD killer for girls," and telling them that "if they have just three sexual partners, they are 15 times as likely to get cervical cancer." He then explained that "our bodies are not made for multiple sex partners" and that "people who marry as virgins have a divorce rate that is 70 percent lower than that of other people because it gives you the right foundation."
Evert urged the young men in the audience to avoid pornography because it "destroys future marital happiness by training them to think of girls as just existing for their kicks." He then told them to think of themselves as "'Knights' who are to love and protect girls who are the daughters of the King of Heaven."
J. Weiss, "York Teenagers Hear Frank Message About Sex," York (NE) News-Times, Feb. 18, 2002.
To inspire all the youth present to remain chaste, Evert suggested that they keep an unit white candle in their bedrooms to symbolize their sexual purity and present it to their mate to light on their wedding night.
NEBRASKA CITY, NE
At an appearance at Nebraska City, NE, High School, Evert told the audience that married couples who use prophylactics have a 50 percent divorce rate, while couples who use natural family planning only have a two percent divorce rate. He then told them that "natural planning is 99 percent effective" and concluded by encouraging students to "take a step back and find the peace and joy that comes from a life of chastity."
P.J. Peterson, "Abstinence Speaker Draws Standing Ovation from Nebraska City High School Students," Nebraska City (NE) News-Press, Oct. 23, 2001.