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Teaching Sex 


On Monday night, after it was done, a sense of relief and well-being settled over the room. Most everyone seemed satisfied, says Central Valley school board president Tom Dingus. "It was nice to have resolution."

It didn't come easy. For months, school officials and parents had been debating how the district should respond to a new state law requiring that if schools choose to teach sex ed, they must include safe-sex information that is medically and scientifically accurate. Schools can't simply teach abstinence anymore.

That fact got more than a few people hot and bothered. Some parents urged the school board to thumb its nose at Olympia. Others suggested the district forgo all sex education. Committees were formed, lawyers were consulted and CV officials, with the help of attorneys, decided they didn't legally have to teach all the curriculum provided by the state. They could, if they wanted, leave out a step-by-step lesson showing kids how to use a condom correctly — which had become the central source of concern.

The district came to the conclusion that it could essentially keep the same curriculum, with a few minor changes and a couple of updated videos. Effectiveness rates of condoms would be taught, as always, but there would be no demonstration lesson. "The reality is there are not a whole lot of significant changes now," says Jean Marczynski, the district's executive director for learning and teaching.

So, during Monday's meeting to approve the "new" curriculum, there wasn't the same outrage that had appeared over the summer. Three people spoke during the evening's public comment period and all supported the approved lessons, Dingus says. One man who spoke had originally condemned the curriculum, but after reviewing it more carefully, said it was appropriate; he even compared its lessons to the Bible, where "if you make good choices, you get good results," Dingus says.

State education officials have followed developments at CV and a spokesman for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said it was the only district he knew of that had had such problems reconciling the revised curriculum. Lesley Eicher, OSPI's health and sexuality education program supervisor, says the new state law, Healthy Youth Act, contains enough wiggle room so districts across the state can tailor their own programs — delaying certain lessons, for example, until later grades.

"Talking about using a condom may not be something that flies in other districts," says Eicher. The law is "very much grounded" in the idea that "young people are very resourceful" and will seek out more information once they have the basics.

Here are some basics for you. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48 percent of high school students in 2007 reported having had sex and a quarter of the girls reported using no contraception the first time they had sex. Every year, an estimated 9.1 million teens and young adults get a sexually transmitted disease. In Washington, there were more than 114,000 teen births between 1991 and 2004, costing taxpayers a total of $2.2 billion, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Groups like Planned Parenthood have welcomed the changes to the state's sex curriculum, calling them long over due. Representatives of the local Planned Parenthood declined to comment for this article, saying they didn't want to get involved in the CV debate. However, Amy Claussen, director of education and training at Planned Parenthood of Central Washington, recently told the Yakima Herald that not teaching teens about all the options available, including contraceptives, undermines their ability to make good choices.

"If we want high-level critical thinkers in the community," she says, "teens need to learn to build decision-making skills."
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