In the wake of parent protests, the Alexandria School Board has taken a look at parts of a controversial sex education course for elementary school children before it begins this fall in 12 city schools.
The Family Life Education program, targeted for kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade students, includes segments on clinical terms for the reproductive organs, preventing sexual abuse of children, human sexual development and fetal development. The courses also will focus on family life, death, peer pressure and hygiene.
Twelve pilot family life classes were taught at four elementary schools during the past school year. In the upcoming school year, pilot programs will be started in the second and fifth grades with the intention of making them permanent the following school year. For the past two years sex education has been taught to ninth graders at Francis C. Hammond and George Washington junior high schools.
Some parents have attacked the Alexandria program because portions of it were based on material developed by Planned Parenthood of Santa Cruz, Calif. They also say that it will be difficult to monitor whether teachers strictly follow the curriculum, a concern echoed by some School Board members. The same parents say that the program teaches "sex without values." They believe that sex is a private subject to be discussed in the family and that premarital sex is wrong.
Alexandria school officials say that as teachers present the material, they will encourage children to turn to parents for their particular religious and moral values. "There's no teaching that one religion is right, but we say to students be aware of your church's beliefs," said Jean Hunter, curriculum specialist in charge of the sex education course.
Parents can also choose not to have their children attend the classes. These students will be given other school assignments.
Citizens of Alexandria Seeking Responsible Education, a group formed to oppose the sex education course, has presented the School Board a petition with 450 signatures of people who oppose the course. The School Board took no action on the petition.
Jerry L. Hunsaker, chairman of the group, has a daughter who will start kindergarten this fall. "It concerns me that there is an apparent lack of an opposing view," said Hunsaker about the Family Life curriculum committee and its citizens advisory committee.
Sandy Lindsay, School Board member and liaison to the citizens advisory committee, agreed that there was no one on the committee representing the view of Hunsaker's group. "It would be self-defeating to do so," Lindsay said. The School Board appoints members of the Family Life Curriculum Advisory Committee.
After reviewing several films and course outlines, School Board members Lynnwood Campbell and Judy Seltz commented that some of the material was too explicit for young children.
According to School Board Chairman Lou Cook, individual School Board members had reviewed the pilot program on their own before it began in January but the School Board had not officially reviewed the curriculum until last week.
"I thought it was too much, too fast. I thought the pictures were too detailed for the fourth grade," said Campbell about the film "Fertilization and Birth." The film's animated sequences depict male and female genitals, a baby emerging through the vagina and fertilization among animals. Filmed sequences also show a calf and puppies coming through the birth canal.
In another film for fourth graders titled "My Mom's Having a Baby," the family doctor explains what "making love" is to 11-year-old Petey and his two companions.
Cook, a longtime advocate of Family Life Education in Alexandria, said that the program doesn't teach children anything that they don't already hear in the schoolyard.
"By the fourth grade, kids are beginning to ask a lot of questions. I don't think it's too explicit, but if five board members said it was too explicit then we wouldn't use it," Cook said.
On the agenda for the kindergarten classes are tours of the boys and girls bathrooms, where the terms "penis" and "vulva" will be introduced to help outline the differences between the sexes. Kindergarten children will also learn the terms "defecate, urinate" and "have a bowel movement" to replace household slang for the excretory processes.
First graders will learn about family life and its possible changes, including birth of a sibling, divorce, remarriage, loss of a job and death. Mammal and human fetal development and births will also be discussed.
The fourth grade curriculum focuses on puberty and its accompanying physical and emotional changes. Details on conception, pregnancy and birth also will be taught.
Mary Comstock, a mother of five children in the Alexandria school system, said she approves of the program's segments on preventing child sexual abuse, peer pressure and dealing with death.
Comstock said she does object to the Planned Parenthood ethos, which encourages birth control and approves of abortion, that she said seems to be behind the program. Two of her children, in kindergarten and ninth grade, have attended the sex education courses.
"It encourages sexual experimentation. I perused the first draft in November and my eyes fell right out of my head," said Comstock.
Curriculum specialist Hunter has taught the sex education course for the ninth grade in Alexandria.
"My students are insulted that adults think that they will become sexually active after they're given information," Hunter said.At the end of the pilot program, a survey was sent home with students. While parents' comments were generally favorable, according to Hunter, parental criticism prompted the removal of references to masturbation in the fourth grade curriculum. It will be introduced in fifth and sixth grade material that is still being developed.
Hunter said that some parts of the Alexandria program use material developed by Planned Parenthood while other portions of the program use a sex education curriculum from the school system in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Board members encouraged parents to examine the Family Life Education material, copies of which are available at local elementary schools. Copies of the revised curriculum will be available in August. The school system plans to have sex education in grades kindergarten through 12th by 1988.