Wichita The Kansas State Board of Education is considering a proposal that would require public schools to teach sexual abstinence until marriage or risk losing their accreditation.
The board listened to two hours of public comment and expert presentations Tuesday, but took no action and plans to rehash the issue again.
Board members appeared confused about whether such a plan would allow school districts to also offer comprehensive sex education that includes information about birth control methods and protection against sexually transmitted diseases for students who may become sexually active.
Board member Kathy Martin, who proposed the sexual abstinence mandate, said some Kansas schools were not upholding societal values.
"We need to be the ones to say, 'This is the right thing to teach,'" she said.
She said the board already tied accreditation to other subjects such as math and science.
But other board members questioned whether the state board needed to get involved, noting that 75 percent of Kansas school districts offer comprehensive sex education courses that already teach abstinence.
"We as a state board should not be mandating this from a state level," board member Janet Waugh said, adding that every local school board should have the right to make its own decision according to its own needs.
Board member Carol Rupe suggested the board could make a recommendation to teach abstinence before marriage, but said it was wrong to change state regulations to mandate it. She noted Kansas laws already requires physical education that includes health and human sexuality.
"This is much larger, more fraught with danger," board member Sue Gamble said, warning it would set a precedent to tie abstinence to accreditation.
The board heard a presentation from Charles Jenny, a Wichita science teacher, in support of the comprehensive sex education programs now used in a majority of Kansas schools.
"My job is not to teach morals or to judge them about their decisions made," Jenny said. "My job is to teach them about the things out there that can hurt them."
Board members also listened to Sandy Pickert, executive director of the Abstinence Educators Assn. in Wichita, who urged them to mandate an abstinence-only program for public schools. She told the board that comprehensive sex education programs typically spend just 4 percent of their time on abstinence and are not effective in deterring teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
"We have had 20 years of comprehensive sex education to no avail," Pickert said.
Earlier in the day, the board spent more than an hour listening to comments from the public - most of which were overwhelmingly in support of sex education programs that included not just abstinence, but also information about birth control and other sexuality issues.