By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005
The Fairfax County School Board last night approved two new pamphlets about sex education for 10th-graders, but only after it made several changes that included revising a section about the morning-after pill.
The pamphlets -- "Birth Control Facts" and "Abstinence 101" -- will replace a 1980s video that students watch in their Personal and Community Health class, whose curriculum stresses abstinence as the best option for teenagers. The board's struggle to find acceptable material illustrates the challenges school officials face in deciding how much, and what, should be taught about sex and morals in the classroom.
Board members have received hundreds of e-mails in recent weeks from parents and others worried that some of the materials proposed as replacements for the video would encourage children to be sexually active. At a recent board meeting, one father urged the board to "keep the schools out of this area entirely."
Board member Tessie Wilson (Braddock) said that although she believes schools must encourage students to wait until they are older to have sex, teenagers also need to be given clear and accurate information about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.
"I think we would all agree, for all our kids, abstinence is the way to go. But realistically, we know there are some kids who are sexually active, and for those kids, I'd rather they have information that's correct," Wilson said.
In a 10 to 1 vote with one member absent, the board approved the pamphlets but also directed staff to search for alternatives that do a better job of portraying abstinence as a preferred choice.
Board member Stephen M. Hunt (At Large), who cast the sole vote against the materials, said yesterday that they portray teenagers who choose not to have sex as being "on the other side of normal and popular" and that they do not include enough information about sexually transmitted diseases and the possible health risks of some contraceptives.
The board initially was presented with two pamphlets published by a California company, which were centered on birth-control options. The pamphlets were recommended by a committee of citizens, teachers and administrators. The board discarded one, titled "Birth Control Choices," and replaced it with "Abstinence 101."
Several parents and board members found fault with "Birth Control Choices" because it said abstinence "can range from no sexual touching at all to everything except intercourse."
"It sent a mixed message," said board member Brad Center (Lee). "I think we need to be clear when dealing with kids that abstinence is abstinence."
The second pamphlet, "Birth Control Facts," was modified by school officials. They removed a section suggesting that students "may want to ask for a supply of [morning-after] pills to have in case an emergency happens." And on a page about how to choose birth control, the heading was changed from "What's Right for Me" to "Some Questions to Ask Yourself."
Joe Bartling, a technology company official who has two children in Fairfax schools, said the changes the board made don't go far enough.
"Abstinence is downplayed in the message," Bartling said. "I think it sends a more causal message about sex and birth control than it should."