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Archive for Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lawrence educators criticize proposed guideline

June 15, 2005

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In two decades of teaching health education in Lawrence schools, Vickie McCauley has seen about 10 children opt out of sex education lessons.

"The majority of the parents have given me very positive feedback saying, 'Thank you for covering this. We really appreciate what you do in that area,'" said McCauley, who teaches at West Junior High School.

But while it may not be controversial in McCauley's class, sex education is in the hotseat in Topeka. Conservative State Board of Education members on Tuesday discussed requiring parents give approval before their children could participate in sex education. Currently, parents can tell school officials they don't want their children to be exposed to certain parts of health class. That is commonly called "opting out."

The state board's consideration of an "opt-in" provision was met with dismay by Lawrence school board members.

"I can't imagine what else they're going to come up with," board President Leni Salkind said. "I'm not aware of our board having any concerns about that, nor have I heard from any parents who have concerns."

Lynda Allen, the district's director of math and sciences, said the proposed changes could lead to a paperwork nightmare and other problems.

"I would need some time to think about how we would even make that work," she said. "Obviously this idea was not generated by someone who is in education. Why would we change something that works for us and our community?"

There are parents who have opted to keep children out of a part of health class, Allen said, but the district does not keep track of the numbers.

In the Lawrence district, instruction about health and physical development begins in fourth grade.

Boys and girls in fourth and fifth grades are separated for instruction about physical development and their changing bodies.

In sixth grade, with boys and girls together, students are taught about human sexuality, reproduction, birth, body development and body changes, and hormones. They also discuss HIV and AIDS, dealing with peer pressure and healthy ways to show affection. Contraception is not part of the teaching.

To avoid embarrassment, students typically ask questions anonymously by writing them down on paper for a teacher to read, district officials said.

But elementary students' lessons on human sexuality and related topics often are crammed into an already full schedule. It may take up only one 40-minute class in a year, Allen said.

It's a difficult topic for teachers, and they often leave it until the end of the year, she said.

Students take health class, which includes sex education, again in eighth grade. In their high school years, those classes are electives.

Richard Wisdom, 15, a Lawrence High School student, said sex education was key.

"I think it's pretty important," he said. "Otherwise kids wouldn't know about that stuff."

The eighth-grade curriculum stresses abstinence, but students learn how to protect themselves if they are sexually active.

"The kids who probably need this the most are the kids whose parents are hardest to be tracked down," said Scott Morgan, a parent, member of the site council at Southwest Junior High School and a former school board member. "The motive of this is to keep kids away from knowledge."

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