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January 21, 2009 > Debate over Sex Ed heats up

Debate over Sex Ed heats up

Submitted By Rebecca Farmer, ACLU

More than six months ago, board members of the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) set Jan. 14 as the day when they would officially bring the city's junior high sex education into alignment with California law. But as that date has inched closer, parents who insist on an "abstinence only" approach to sex education are hoping to reignite a conflict that played out last year in order to forestall classroom discussion of topics like condoms and pregnancy.

Some board members have indicated that they may choose to sidestep the controversy by canceling sex ed in junior high schools altogether.

"The district recognized some time ago that that its instruction was inadequate and inaccurate, and it has now completed a six month process of reviewing and evaluating new curricula," explained Phyllida Burlingame, a health education consultant for the ACLU who has been involved in the process by advising parents and the school district about the requirements of the law. "The two curricula up for adoption tonight [Wednesday, January 14, 2009] have been found by the district to be legally compliant, and they've been recommended by teachers and approved by the district's community advisory committee. Dragging the decision out any further would violate the integrity of the process and be detrimental to the students."

The controversy erupted last year after parents notified the AFUSD board that the previous seventh grade curriculum was not in compliance with the law because it provided inaccurate information about condoms and contraception. The board then agreed to adopt a new curriculum-termed "comprehensive"-that is medically accurate, age-appropriate, and includes information about both abstinence and methods for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, as required by law. (For more information see www.aclunc.org/sex_ed_resources)

Proponents of comprehensive sex education are working hard to ensure that school board members follow through on their commitment to provide Fremont youth the same high quality curricula utilized in other districts, like Redwood City.

Under consideration are two comprehensive curricula that meet state requirements and have been evaluated and recommended by teachers and the district's advisory committee. Teen Talk was developed by the Teen Pregnancy Coalition of San Mateo County and is used in many Peninsula schools. 7/8 F.L.A.S.H. was developed by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health and is used throughout the country. (Links to these curricular materials are below).

California law states that sex education in public schools must be science-based, free of bias, and include medically accurate, age-appropriate information about abstinence, condoms and contraception in grades 7-12. California schools may not use "abstinence-only" curricula.

"As adults, we have a responsibility to help teens acquire the skills for saying no to sexual activity, and to give them the information they need about preventing sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy," explained Fremont parent and ob/gyn physician Lucienne Bouvier, who is involved in the community effort. "Comprehensive sex education is designed to help all young people be knowledgeable, safe, and confident."

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that students receiving abstinence only education are at twice the risk of teenage pregnancy as students receiving comprehensive sex education. Students receiving no sex ed were 60% more at risk for teen pregnancy than students receiving comprehensive sex ed.

* Teen Talk curricula: http://www.teenpregnancycoalition.org/programs/teentalk/index.htm)

* 7/8 F.L.A.S.H. curricula: http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/personal/famplan/educators/FLASH.aspx

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