Sexual activity has increased "tremendously" among 15- to 19-year-olds in Montgomery County, and the number of reported abortions rose 121 percent from 1974 to 1978, according to the findings of the Commission on Children and youth.
The number of births to girls in that age group remained constant, at a little more 500 per year, the commission said in its report on Adolescent Pregnancy, Pregnancy Prevention and Services in Montgomery County.
But there is a more tolerant attitude among teens themselves toward their pregnant peers, the report said.
"We started the study a year ago assuming there were increasing births in this age group," said Lila Trachtenberg, a member of the commission. "We found that wasn't true, but while we were looking for it, we found there was a tremendous increase in sexual activity and in the number of abortions."
The number of reported abortions among 15- to 19-year-olds in the county went from 450 in 1974 to 997 in 1978.
"The problem of teen-aged pregnancies shouldn't be considered totally in the context of the numbers game," said Carol Giannini of the Department of Family Resources, who worked on the report. "These girls require a lot of hand-holding and a lot of services. It doesn't matter if there are five, 500 or 5,000."
Because many students appear to be sexually active at a younger age, all students should take a "comprehensive" health education course by the ninth grade, the commission said.
In addition, it said, junior high students need child-development and parenthood courses, and a school nurse or guidance counselor should be available at all times in each junior and senior high school to counsel students, particularly pregnant girls, about health and social welfare services.
The commission members went before the school board, the County Council and County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist last week to make their recommendations.
Some school board members said they objected to schools performing what they considered social welfare activities.
"Where is the parents' responsibility and where is the schools?" asked board member Marian L. Greenblatt. "Glamor has been added, so that this student who has something growing in her body has become something for other to emulate."
"There is much more acceptance. We cannot speak as to whether or not there is more glamor," answered Tanya Moss of the commission.
Board member Carol F. Wallace complained that the report was too general.
"When you say 'comprehensive health education,' are you talking about birth control or not?" she asked. The commission members did not respond to that question. Trachtenberg said later, "I don't see how it could be let out."
Giannini said in an interview that health education did not mean sex education alone.
"We're talking about the development of the total individual and the responsibility toward himself in life," she said. "We don't want health education to get a bad name."
Commission members said after meeting with the school board that the reaction was better than they had expected. "At least they were willing to discuss it," said one.
"It's the preventive-education hot pot. The board is interested and somewhat threatened by it," said Charles Short, executive secretary to the commission.
The board was not asked to take specific steps and they did not vote on the report's recommendations.
County Executive Gilchrist, who asked for the study a year ago, told the commission the work was "excellent" and that "we have a responsibility to do something instead of studying. We are great studiers in Montgomery County." s
The Division of Driver, Health and Physical Education and Athletics has been working since September 1979 on a plan to revise the health education curriculum in grades kindergarten through 12.
"For years we have been inundated by requests to put in a course here or a course there -- on drugs, or pregnancies or alcohol -- so that finally we are putting in so much material -- adding on to the existing program -- that we are taking away from other structured courses," said Ed Masood, director or the division. Currently in the school system, fifth and sixth graders with parental permission learn about reproductive systems as part of the study of various body systems. In seventh and eighth grades they study peer realtionship, and take 10 days out of gym class time to learn about venereal disease.
Last year about 1,900 ninth graders chose to take a special pilot course that is now in its second year. That course covers family life and human development, nutrition, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and alcohol and drug abuse. The approximately five weeks spent on family life and human development ductive system, sexually transmitted diseases and rape prevention.
In grades 10 to 12, students may choose half-year elective courses, among them one that includes 10 class periods on contraception.
"Sex education could only be indentified with the unit (about 10 days) spent on contraception," said Mike Tartamella, coordinator of health education. "It's unfortunate, but in many people's minds, there is a misunderstanding. What we call family life, they call sex education. What we would like, if the course goes in as a required course, is to drop the offering in eighth grade. It's unfair to pull kids out of phys-ed class. We're suggesting that a half unit (like the ninth-grade pilot course) be required between grades 9 to 12."
The new health curriculum would not be taught before next fall at the earliest, according to Masood.