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Reuters, August 5, 2004

Texas Sex-Ed Textbooks Face Contraceptives Battle

By Jon Herskovitz

DALLAS (Reuters) - The lesson for Texas teens is that the only safe sex is no sex, and that may be a lesson that heads nationwide.

Texas educators are debating what will be taught in new sexual education textbooks for its high school students. The 15-member Texas Board of Education is considering and will likely approve four books, all of which extol the virtues of abstinence. Three make no mention of contraceptives at all while one makes passing reference to condoms.

Critics are crying foul, saying that a lesson of abstinence alone is dangerous because it could lead to more teen pregnancies and more teens becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases.

The battle in Texas has national implications because the state is the second-biggest market for textbooks in the United States. Books approved by the state's school board are typically marketed nationally.

According to Centers for Disease Control figures, Texas has been among the top five states in the country for teen-age pregnancies for several years.

When he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush pushed for an abstinence-based sexual education curriculum. He raised his concerns to a national level when he said in this year's State of the Union address: "We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases."

National surveys indicate that a wide majority of parents support a strong abstinence message to teens in sexual education.

TEENS ADVISED TO GET SLEEP

The Texas Freedom Network, a group that regularly battles social and religious conservatives in the state, along with Planned Parenthood and others are asking the board not to approve the four textbooks under consideration.

They say the books are lacking. For example, one textbook under review advises that a good way a teen-ager can prevent a sexually transmitted disease is to get plenty of rest so he or she can have a clear head about sex and choose abstinence.

"The key thing here is that the textbooks do not contain a trace of information about family planning and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases other than through abstinence," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network.

Critics want the board to ask the publishers to revise the books to include more information on contraceptives, but the board is expected to approve the books without changes since officials say discussion of contraceptives in their teachers' supplements is enough to meet state curriculum requirements .

"There are other contraceptive methods in addition to abstinence and you are just not going to find it in these textbooks," Quinn said. He charged the textbook publishers have engaged in self-censorship to appease social conservatives in the state at the expense of the health of Texas teen-agers.

The board will meet in September to discuss the books and will vote on whether to approve them in November. If approved, the texts are likely to appear in classrooms in August 2005 -- where they could be the standard text for about 10 years.

Local school districts are not required to use one of the new books but they receive state funding to buy them if they do.

The publishers of the books are Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Glencoe/McGraw Hill and Thomson Delmar Learning.

Some of the books currently in use in the state have more information about contraceptives than the books up for consideration, but once the new books are approved, they will for the most part replace all the current texts.

The education board has been at the center of many political and religious battles over the years including a recent proposal by evangelical Christian groups to have the state's textbooks include items debunking evolution,

Despite opposition, the sex education textbooks under consideration are likely to get approval. State Education Agency officials said mention of condoms and contraceptives in the teacher's editions or in supplements to the books enable them to meet Texas curriculum standards.

Texas standards require sexual education books to "analyze the effectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods, including the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, keeping in mind the effectiveness of remaining abstinent until marriage."

ABSTINENCE IN TEXAS

Richard Blake, a spokesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston said his company offers a supplement for students that goes into comprehensive detail about forms of contraceptives.

The supplement for students is free with the purchase of the textbooks. It is excluded from the main text in order to offer flexibility and meet the needs of school boards across the United States that have differing views on how to treat a subject many see as highly sensitive.

"Teachers and educators across the country, and not just in Texas, have told us they wanted it this way," Blake said.

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© Copyright Reuters 2004. All rights reserved.

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