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The lawmakers want condom use taught.
By RON MATUS, STEVE BOUSQUET and DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writers
Published January 9, 2008
TALLAHASSEE - Two South Florida lawmakers announced legislation Tuesday that would require many Florida schools to take their sex education classes beyond abstinence-only.
Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, D-Miami, say the Healthy Teens Act is a "common sense bill" that would give teens information about abstinence, but also offer ways to protect themselves from disease and pregnancy, including use of contraceptives.
At a news conference, Deutch, the father of twin girls in middle school, held up a copy of a teen magazine featuring a newly pregnant Jamie Lynn Spears, the 16-year-old sister of pop star Britney Spears.
"We have to take steps now to try and cut down on the number of pregnancies and to try to limit disease," Deutch said. "The fact is that this is a topic being discussed in our schools, on the playground and in the cafeteria."
Legislation to create sex education beyond abstinence-only isn't new. And odds are slim that an emotional issue like kids and condoms, being pushed by Democrats, would suddenly get a warm reception in a Republican-dominated Legislature.
But it's also true the backdrop for the bill has changed considerably in the past year, with abstinence-only programs coming under increasing scrutiny.
In the spring, a widely publicized study by Mathematica Policy Research found abstinence-only programs don't reduce teen sexual activity or unprotected sex. A few months later, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the percentage of U.S. teens having sex had remained steady between 2001 and 2005.
Florida has the sixth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, and the second-highest AIDS rate.
"Something's not working," said Brian Dodge, a former public health professor at the University of Florida who's now at Indiana University.
Current Florida statutes stress abstinence. And though districts have the discretion to offer more, a UF study led by Dodge found the vast majority of sex education teachers did not stray from state guidelines.
Released in the fall, Dodge's study also found sex education programs in Florida vary widely in content, teacher training and availability to students. It also found many programs were not offered until the sophomore year of high school - after many students had already begun having sex.
Some districts go beyond abstinence in a program referred to as "abstinence plus." Pinellas eighth-graders, for example, learn about condoms in relation to disease prevention, said Peggy Johns, the district's supervisor of health education. High school students receive information on family planning as it relates to "future healthy behavior."
The new bill is supported by Planned Parenthood. It would require that schools teach that "abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases."
But beginning in sixth grade, it also would require that schools help students "gain knowledge about the specific involvement and responsibilities of sexual decisionmaking" and provide information about the "health benefits and side effects of all contraceptives."
If a debate in St. Lucie County last month is any indication, things could get ugly if the bill gains traction.
When School Board members there were considering whether to adopt a more comprehensive curriculum called Get Real About AIDS, which teaches students about condoms, a local pastor threatened to post fliers with their faces next to descriptions of sex acts. One board member found her face on a flier that included her address, the type of car she drives and a request that people pray for her.
Any bill that goes beyond abstinence-only is "antifamily and anti-God" because it will encourage sex outside marriage, said Terry Kemple, a Christian community activist in Brandon who once ran a sexual-abstinence ministry.
"You don't give kids an option like that without expecting them to exercise the option," said Kemple, who has also been active in opposing the state's proposed new science standards because they embrace Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. "There should be an unequivocal, zero-tolerance program. 'You will not have sex.' That's it."
Despite the controversy, said Johns, the Pinellas health supervisor, there's one point on which nearly everyone agrees.
"Families should be the primary educator and schools should be the secondary educator," she said. "But we're aware that some families don't have the resources to communicate that information."
What they teach
-In Hernando County, teachers are told they must teach abstinence. But the policy also allows them to teach material "of a controversial nature" and present other views on sex education if they come up in approved textbooks or materials.
-Hillsborough County schools teach abstinence, but instructors will respond to student questions about safe sex precautions. Students also are taught about sexually transmitted diseases.
-Pasco County teaches a two- to three-week unit in science classes from fourth to eighth grade called "human growth and development," covering physiological changes and social skills, with sex being covered in the later grades. Science teachers generally stress "abstinence and wise choices," says Pasco science supervisor Laura Hill.
-In Pinellas County, sixth-graders have a growth and development unit in health classes that includes information on conception but not contraception. Eighth-graders learn about condoms in relation to disease prevention. Parents have to sign an opt-in form before their children can participate. High school students get information on family planning for "future healthy behavior."
[Last modified January 8, 2008, 21:42:33]