EVEN though the editors of the Farm News, the high school newspaper of Hayfield Secondary School in Fairfax County, won a victory for the right of student expression in court, a most serious aspect of the case remains unresolved. That is the question of who should help youngsters understand sex. The Fairfax County School Board has put the lid on all but the most innocuous discussion of sexual matters in the classroom. In that vacuum, the editors of the Farm News attempted to print an article on an important subject, the number of "sexually active" students in the school who are not practicing birth control. Operating under guidelines from the school board, teh school authorities censored the article. The students sued on grounds that their First Amendment rights had been violated, and the U.S. District Court agreed with them.
It remains to be seen what will next occur, but it is possible that the students will be left free to discuss such topics as contraception in their school newspaper while their teachers will be prohibited from by school board regulations from discussing birth control, abortion and homosexuality in the classroom. Is this really the wisest way for things to be?
Consider: Romania, East Germany, Bulgaria and New Zealand are the only industrial countries with higher birth rates among teenagers than the United States. Half the 21 million teenagers in this country will have experienced sexual intercourse before the age of 19. A million pregnancies a year result from this sexual activity and 600,000 of those young women will give birth. How many of those youngsters become ill with venereal disease nobody knows for certain, but the number is in the millions.
The question that parents, teachers and school board members in Fairfax County must ask is: Who gains from the official ban on discussing this topic? This is not to suggest that the schools alone should be concerned with the problem of educating young people about sex. Familieso have the primary responsibility; churches have a role to play and so do community centers and any other place where youngsters gather under adult supervision. The forum is not important, as long as intelligent discussion can replace ignorance and myth. The fact that the court has ruled for the student editors should spur the elders of Fairfax County to think again about their present attitude.