Wake Backs Revising Sex Ed
Limits could affect all grades, subjects
By T. Keung Hui, Staff Writer
RALEIGH -- Everything sex- related, from Greek mythology to advice from school counselors, would be regulated by a sweeping abstinence policy that was given preliminary approval Tuesday by the Wake County school board.
The policy would require that school employees teach about abstinence whenever sexual subjects are discussed. Supporters of the policy, which passed by a 5-3 vote, said it would ensure that students get the same message from teachers and other school employees.
"I believe it is important for us to set strong standards for our children to look up to and for each of our staff to know what to say when the opportunity emerges to urge students to be abstinent sexually," said board member Bill Fletcher.
But critics accused supporters of trying to impose their religious beliefs on others and promoting a policy that has unknown implications.
"If we pass this policy, I believe our face will be turned away from anyone who is different or who happens not to believe exactly as we do," said board member Kathryn Watson Quigg.
The new policy could come up for final approval Jan. 6, though it may be delayed until the issue can be discussed by the board's program committee. The committee has no set date for discussing the policy.
Last year, the school board voted 5-4 to give students in grades seven through nine more lessons about contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and tolerance of gays and lesbians. Abstinence is still the primary focus of those lessons.
The board also allowed administrators to start new comprehensive sex education electives in grades 10 through 12. So far, only Wakefield High School in North Raleigh is offering the electives.
Current policy opposed
Opponents of last year's changes said they went too far. Led by Fletcher, who is running for state schools superintendent, the critics took advantage of the election of new board members in October to push for a new policy.
The new policy mandates 11 restrictions that should be followed when dealing with sexual topics. School employees cannot encourage or demonstrate the use of contraceptives, and they must discuss the current legal status of "homosexual acts" in North Carolina when talking about how AIDS is transmitted.
The proposal essentially would expand abstinence guidelines to cover all grades and all subjects, not just health education in grades seven through nine.
But in covering everything, the policy might be too broad, some fear.
School board attorney Ann Majestic said sexual issues are brought up in many classes.
"I can imagine all manner of classes -- English classes, social studies classes -- that could fall under this policy," Majestic said. "This makes me uncomfortable."
Schools Superintendent Bill McNeal said the policy will need clarification before teachers know what to do to comply.
Critics of the new policy seized on that uncertainty, saying teachers in subjects other than health could be asked to discuss issues they're not trained to talk to students about.
"I don't believe our staff does have a clear understanding of what this will mean," said school board Chairwoman Susan Parry. "It is irresponsible for us to vote on this until we've had some information on this."
Board member Beverley Clark said the message of abstinence would be "cheapened" if it is constantly discussed in classes other than health. But board member Amy White disagreed.
"The message we need to tell students is, abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancies," White said. "The more we say it, the better."
Critics also said the policy probably would lead to elimination of the new health electives.
"All it does is limit information to students and deny parents choices," Clark said. "With 109,000 students, we have a responsibility to give facts."
Fletcher acknowledged that the concerns raised need to be addressed. But he said the policy still needs to be adopted to move Wake forward.
Issue wasn't on agenda
Usually, administrators would have had a chance to review a policy proposal before it went before the board. But that didn't happen with the new policy because it wasn't on the board's agenda for Tuesday.
Fletcher had to introduce the issue before it could be discussed. Because the policy wasn't listed as an agenda item, it requires two votes before it could be acted on.
"I've heard people say you're supporting this for religious reasons or political reasons," said board member Ron Margiotta. "But I'm supporting this because I honestly believe it's in the best interests of the students."
( The New Policy and How Members VotedCollapse )