August 2, 2008

Debate Continues Over Sex Education

By Gina Kinslow, Glasgow Daily Times, Ky.

Aug. 2--Jessica Jackson thinks area schools should provide better sex education.

What sex education she had in high school was very basic and covered mostly reproduction, she said.

Had she known more, the Glasgow High School senior might not be the mother of a toddler.

"There are a lot more teens thinking it's all right to get pregnant, but it's not," she said. "They've got a lot coming to them. When you do get pregnant, you have a lot of responsibilities. Like, you can't hang out with your friends and do all kinds of other things that teens should be doing."

Her principal, Kelly Bell, agrees.

"I couldn't have said it better myself," she said. "They are supposed to be doing teenage stuff."

Bell also agrees that schools need to teach more detailed sex education.

"It's desperately needed," she said. "We are where we were 30 years ago, maybe worse. Just because we don't talk about it with our children does not mean they will not do it. Young men and women are curious and will experiment if they are not educated on the issues involved with unwise relationship decisions."

Other area educators agree that some type of sex education class should be taught in schools, but not everyone agrees at what grade level it should be taught or how in-depth it should be.

Bell thinks students should first learn about relationships and the changes their bodies are going through at puberty. She believes the fourth grade is the appropriate grade level for children to begin receiving such information.

"So many kids don't understand how much they should put into a relationship when it is a boyfriend/girlfriend, or just into a friendship," she said.

Sherry Waldrop, a guidance counselor at Park City Elementary, also believes students should be taught what changes their bodies will be going through when they reach puberty.

"I think those topics do need to be touched on," she said. "The fifth- and sixth-grade years is when you start to see maturity happening, but I don't think it is our (job) as educators to tell them about the birds and bees."

Sex education is not a class that Kentucky schools are required to teach, said Lisa Gross, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education.

"It's left up to districts and schools to determine if they wish to offer it and what approach to take. But questions about sex could show up in the practical living/vocational studies portion of the Kentucky Core Content Tests, and those primarily would be related to health issues," she said. "For instance the Core Content for Assessment, high school practical living/vocational studies, the academic expectations related to sexual behavior could say this: Students will explain the process of human reproduction and development (e.g., conception, birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood) and its impact on an individual's well being."

At most schools sex education is covered only slightly in health, biology or Family and Consumer Science classes.

Debi Lindsey, principal of Caverna High School, believes sex education should be a separate class.

"I think it needs to be singled out as a specific class," she said. "I think if we pulled it out and made it more of a singled-out issue instead of just melting it together with a lot of other things it might be a little different."

Lindsey knows that sex education is touched on in the Parenting and Family and Consumer Science classes at Caverna High School.

"I have been in there when they were talking about how to prepare for having a baby, so I know there's some effort to make kids aware of the responsibilities and what's happening and that sort of thing. I don't think we get into anatomy and I don't think we get into birth control, per se, I think that's probably touched on but I don't think we go into it very deeply," she said.

Lindsey said she would not be opposed to the local health department coming in and teaching some type of sex education course. Officials with the health department already come to the school to teach a class on HIV and making good decisions in regard to safe sex, she said.

"I'm sure they touch on pregnancy in there. I've not sat in on that class, but I'm sure that's one of the things they touch on," Lindsey said.

The Barren River District Health Department (BRDHD) does teach classes dealing with such sensitive issues at all three levels -- elementary, middle and high school.

"It's different things for different schools. We have a specific curriculum that we use to target certain issues," said Lisa Houchin, a health educator with BRDHD. "We get a lot of calls like in the elementary schools to come and talk about hygiene. We try to use the curriculum where we talk about issues dealing with growing up."

The BRDHD also does some abstinence education with middle school-level students.

"We try to do more programs that are a deterrence to risk taking behavior," she said.

At the high school level, the BRDHD gets calls from educators who want classes taught on body image, sexually transmitted diseases and birth control.

"We get a lot of calls to come and talk about teen pregnancy. We actually have schools that have teen mom groups, so we get a lot of calls to go talk to those groups, also," Houchin said.

The BRDHD always requires parental permission before discussing such issues with students, she said.

When schools do call and ask the BRDHD to teach a sex education class, Houchin said, they always start out by talking about abstinence and do their best to stress it.

Monroe County schools received a grant five years ago to fund an abstinence education program through the Monroe County Health Department. With the grant money, the school system established an abstinence coalition, which was composed of health department personnel, school personnel, community members and student representatives, said Sandy England, health coordinator and Family Resource and Youth Service Center district contact.

"Student members in the past have taught classes and conducted specific projects related to this topic," she said.

The grant was not refunded for the 2007-08 school year, but rollover money was available to continue parts of the program.

"We have taught RTR -- Reducing the Risk -- to ninth-graders for several years. The health department has provided an instructor for this program and the curriculum. This year, due to funding changes, the curriculum was changed to Choosing the Best, which helps teens make good decisions and the instructor was provided by the school system," England said.

The health department is making plans to continue RTR this school year, with the school system providing the instructor. Monroe County Middle School has also taught Postponing Sexual Involvement in conjunction with the grant, she said.

Glasgow Independent Schools has applied for a similar grant to promote abstinence programs in the district.

"The abstinence grant money would be used to implement a curriculum that teaches a student the value of self worth and making good decisions that will have a positive impact on their lives," said Stacy Jessie, a spokesperson for the school district. "It would also educate students on risky behaviors and the consequences associated with such behavior."

Glasgow will be working with Bridgette Gross with the Crossroads Pregnancy Center in Glasgow to implement the curriculum, which is something Gross said she would like to do with other area schools.

Kathy Goff, superintendent of the Glasgow Independent School District, believes schools should secure grants or other monies available to support abstinence.

"I see schools being a partner with families to promote abstinence," she said.


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