Langley High School Principal Thomas J. Cabelus Jr. calls Fairfax County's new sex education program an "abject failure."
Madison High School biology teacher Wendell Davis says the four students who finished the sex education course at his Vienna school "could have learned as much in my regular biology class."
Other Fairfax high school teachers and principals surveyed by the school system recently called the approach to teaching students about sex "too restrictive, too limited and ineffective."
Despite these less-than-glowing remarks from school staff members, Superintendent S. John Davis has recommended that the year-old sex education program remain the same for at least another year.
"One year's trial is just not sufficient," Davis said after the survey was released last week. "We're going to try it a second year and continue to look at whether changes should be made then."
The program, which includes filmstrips, slides and taped lectures, was developed over a 10-year period after parents helped shape its content through testimony at frequent public hearings. The program was redesigned at least twice before it was sent to the schools last fall.
High school student representatives have complained about the restrictive nature of the sex instruction since if began. But the school-conducted survey represented the first indication that educators also are dissatisfied with the program.
Some teachers complained that the program:
Forbids mention of birth control, homosexuality, abortion and masturbation. Students who had questions in these areas were told to ask their parents.
Prohibits questions from students unless submitted in writing. The questions were sorted by teachers to determine which ones they could answer. The answers were returned in writing.
Fosters too sterile an approach to sex, using diagrams and outlines to show various sexual functions, like fertilization.
Teaches boys and girls separate sessions.
Cabelus claimed that "all substances was cut from sex instruction" during the long parental review process. At the high school level, according to the school's sex education brochure, the sex education programs aims to "develop a basic understanding of the human reproductive system" and to teach students about the "responsibilities and implications of a sexual relationship."
"It just points up the hypocrisy of whole system," Cabelus said. "First we tell kids there are thing they need to know about sex, then we tell them it's too dirty to really teach them about it. Well, they need a lot of good information and they need it desperately."
Superintendent Davis said he was "disappointed" by the small turnout of high school students at the sex education classes that ran for four hour-long sessions.
Only 959 among 45,100 high school students participated this year in the voluntary program, which required parental permission for students to attend.
Cabelus attributed the poor attendance to the program's lack of content, saying that hundreds of students signed up but only a handful attended the classes. Davies said, however, that he believes attendance faltered because the program ran during the activity period at the end of the school day, and because some students were unaware that a night program was available.
Many more elementary and intermediate school students attended less advanced variations of the high school sex program, apparently because the instruction was included in some regular health education classes.
In the survey, most elementary and intermediate school teachers rated the sex education program as a least somewhat effecitve for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
"But high school students are different," said biology teacher Davis. "They need to know more and we just couldn't tell them. It was a very frustrating experience (teaching the program)."
Cabelus said teachers who presented the program at his school "told me they would never again teach it; there was no teaching involved basically. They introduced the material and let it run." The tapes and filmstrips used were produced by commercial education companies and complied by Fairfax schools at a cost of about $12,000, Superintendent Davis said.
"The kids couldn't even ask questions," said Madison biology teacher Davis. "They would have to submit questions written on pieces of paper at the end of the session, and we'd have to give answers the same way. I guess they (school administrators) thought it would be embrassing to say we couldn't answer to a question."
He also indicated that teaching girls and boys in separate sessions contributed to the "myths and mysteries" of sex. "When I cover some of these things in my biology classes, I don't say girls, you have to leave the room now," Davis said.
He regarded the approach to sex instruction as "too sertile," saying that the process of fertilization was shown in a filmstrip as "a green outline."
"How effective is that? I just don't know," Davis remarked.
High schools students in the program learned about the anatomies of the human endocrine system and the reproductive system, changes in the women during pregnancy, the types and sympthoms of venereal diseases and their causes, prevention was omitted. Students also studied the effects of heredity and nutrition in prenatal development, the consequences of early pregnancy and parental responsibilities.
"Teen-agers are thinking about sex 90 percent of the time," Cablelus said. "It's hyprocrisy to deny their intense interest in all area of sex and not try to deal with that intense involvement in a straightforward honest way.