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Sex ed talks could get 'no'
The value of a group's abstinence-only program is questioned.
By Jeffrey S. Solochek Times Staff Writer
Published October 18, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - A Christian ministry group that offers abstinence-only sex education programs in Hernando County schools is seeking an entry into Pasco County schools.
Stephanie Knight, director of A New Generation, plans to ask superintendent Heather Fiorentino today for permission to hold abstinence-only assemblies in the county's middle and high schools some time in April. The "No Regrets" events would coincide with a weekend youth concert by a "positive" recording artist who also would provide the message to stay away from sex before marriage.
"It's an awesome program," Knight said. "There's only positive that comes from it. We're looking to see if it's something they would like to take part in."
"Because Pasco County doesn't already have an abstinence program that's presented throughout the schools," Knight said. "We were just going to talk to her."
Fiorentino and assistant superintendent Sandra Ramos, who is scheduled to sit in the 30-minute meeting, said they knew little about the group, which also runs a program called ABC for Teens in Hernando schools. ABC stands for Abstinence is the Best Choice. They had no idea whether they would agree to even bring the concept of the assemblies to the School Board.
Asked whether they would be receptive, board members who were willing to answer indicated they were comfortable with the district's current sex-ed program. The district's half-credit Life Management course emphasizes AIDS prevention, the consequences of pregnancy and parenting skills, in addition to talking about the benefits of abstinence.
"I would hope we would have the abstinence (component), because that's the ideal situation in society," board member Cathi Martin said. But just because you say it doesn't make it happen, she added.
The district's existing curriculum "is giving them options," Martin said.
Chairwoman Marge Whaley, a school nurse who helped create the district's current sex-ed program, said she would adamantly oppose abstinence-themed assemblies. One-shot talks, regardless of the topic, simply don't work, Whaley said.
"It's not going to change behavior," she said. "I would absolutely not support taking kids away from class where they're learning something" for such an assembly.
She also pointedly noted that Pasco's program, which has community support, seems to work. The most recent available federal statistics show that Pasco's teen birth rate is lower than in any of the surrounding counties.
Across the state and country, the trend actually is away from abstinence-only sex education. Brevard and St. Lucie counties are among a growing number that recently added AIDS prevention and birth control back into their curriculum.
They're bolstered by a Congressional report, released in the spring, that revealed that teens who took abstinence-only courses were just as likely as those who didn't to begin having sex at the same age.
A New Generation remains undeterred in its mission, regardless of the eventual outcome in Pasco schools. In addition to abstinence programs, the nonprofit agency offers free pregnancy testing, peer counseling, parenting classes, post-abortion counseling and more, primarily to teens.
"We hope to prevent people from walking through our doors with an unplanned pregnancy," Knight said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.