Sex education faces budget cuts in Loudoun County

Budget cuts being considered by the Loudoun County School Board this week are far-reaching. They could affect class size, foreign language offerings and the availability of full-day kindergarten.

They could also affect sex education.

The county has 19 specially trained Family Life educators who could lose their positions, as the board tries to reconcile a $38 million gap between its proposed budget and what county supervisors appropriated this month.

In many Virginia counties, trained health and physical education teachers cover the state Family Life Education standards, which include lessons about healthy families and relationships, as well as human reproduction and sexuality. In Loudoun, Family Life teachers who specialize in the curriculum, which was adopted in 1990, rotate among schools.

“They establish a level of trust that is very unique,” said Cara L. LeGrys, supervisor of the county’s Family Life Education program. The specialized teachers “help create an environment in the classroom where students feel safe, and they feel comfortable and can ask questions.”

LeGrys said that the Loudoun program is often considered a model in the state. Parents are able to have their children opt out of classes addressing sensitive topics, but only about 2 percent do, LeGrys said, indicating a high level of trust in the county’s program.

Some Family Life Education teachers have addressed the board during budget hearings to stress the benefits of having specialized teachers leading sensitive discussions. The teachers have helped identify children who are victims of sexual abuse, and the county’s teenage pregnancy rate has plummeted over the past 20 years, they said.

“Did you know that one out of every two sexually active youth will have a sexually transmitted disease by the time they are 25? Did you know that the U.S. leads the industrialized world in the number of sexually transmitted diseases?” one of the teachers asked during a hearing. “Have you ever tried teaching a classroom full of seventh-grade boys about these topics? We do it every day, and we maintain full control so that the students can learn.”

Cutting the specialized positions would save the school district an estimated $1.4 million.

Other staff positions that could be eliminated or cut back include library assistants, middle and high school deans, administrative interns in elementary schools, assistant athletic directors and technology assistants.

The board may also consider closing four small schools and making cuts to foreign language instruction in elementary schools, to bus transportation for after-school activities, and to transportation to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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