08/22/10 — Students to see sex ed changes

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Students to see sex ed changes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 22, 2010 1:50 AM

Middle school students in Wayne County Public Schools will learn more about birth control options this year, as schools across the state are required to provide additional information on the subject.

The 2009 Healthy Youth Act mandates schools offer a more comprehensive health education program, which includes instruction on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and sex education.

As Policy 3540 is currently written, beginning in seventh grade, "reproductive health and safety education will include age-appropriate instruction on sexual abstinence until marriage, STDs, the human reproductive system, effective contraceptive methods for preventing pregnancy and awareness of sexual assault and sexual abuse."

The law reflects a change from the abstinence-only policy previously used in schools' sex education classes.

State Rep. Susan Fisher, a Buncombe County Democrat, backed the legislation, which is designed to reduce teen pregnancy and to boost graduation rates.

Students will still be taught from the "abstinence-only" curriculum but the comprehensive option will also feature more information on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy.

The policy recently came up for discussion at the August meeting of the Wayne County Board of Education, but the vote was postponed until next month.

Board member John P. Grantham questioned wording that was being deleted in one segment of the policy, implying students would no longer be taught on "the benefits of sexual abstinence until marriage."

The reference was found to be included later in the policy, but by then the board had voted to study the issue further and to bring it back for consideration in September.

Allison Pridgen, director of student support services with Wayne County Public Schools, said there should be no cause for alarm when the comprehensive education program is rolled out this year.

"Parents will have the option of their child participating in the abstinence-only portion, or if they give permission, for their child to participate in the comprehensive program that will include abstinence," she said. "Either way, parent permission is going to be required and the mandate is for grades 7 through 9. (Previously, the abstinence-only curriculum was for grades 6-9). If parents choose for their child not to participate, an alternate activity will be determined by the school principals."

The district, like its counterparts around the state, has long adhered to the "abstinence-only" approach to teaching sex education. It was initially passed by the school board in April 1993.

"We spent a huge amount of money on abstinence education curriculum years ago," Mrs. Pridgen said. "As we all know, there are funding issues (in school systems). The School Health Advisory Council we are all mandated to have apprised us that the law had changed last school year, and we were going to have to go through this process.

"Due to the budgetary constraints, it has been determined that we will have a locally developed curriculum."

The district will be supported by several agencies, including WATCH, or Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, as well as health educators from the Health Department.

"Our school nursing staff will be part of it, and we actually are still in the process of getting it put together," Mrs. Pridgen said. "The Health Department has very kindly offered to assist us with the instruction with regard to birth control methods because I think that seems to be the most uncomfortable for some folks to teach."

The instruction itself, she pointed out, is not designed to be as explicit and controversial as one might imagine.

"It's basically going to be the facts because the cold hard facts are what our students need in today's society to make a sound decision," she said, adding, "Parents will be given the opportunity to review the materials to be used prior to providing the permission for their child to participate."

Another difference is that, unlike the abstinence-only option, for the comprehensive program, "passive permission" will not be accepted.

It used to be that when the time drew near for the sex education lesson, she said, letters were sent home notifying parents, who returned the letter only if they chose not to have their child participate.

"With the comprehensive, they have to send the letter back, granting permission or opting out," Mrs. Pridgen said.

The district is still finalizing how the program will be implemented, she said. Principals will help determine which teachers will lead the program at their respective schools, be it a science or health teacher or the physical education teacher.