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Associated Press, September 8, 2004

Groups wage fight over sex ed in textbooks

DATELINE: AUSTIN -- Social conservatives and sex education advocates are clashing head-on in the debate of what Texas public school students should learn from their health textbooks.

On Wednesday, the state Board of Education holds the final public hearing on which books will be used in the 2005-06 school year, replacing 11-year-old materials now being used.

The hearing has sparked a new round of debate over what's too sexy to be in the classroom and whether abstinence-only or lessons in contraception are the better policy.

The "Protect Our Kids Campaign," a group of sex education advocates ranging from Planned Parenthood to the Texas State Teachers Association, on Tuesday released results of a recent poll that showed 90 percent of adult Texans favor teaching "age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education that includes information on abstinence, birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV."

The survey question was commissioned by the group and conducted by the Scripps Howard Texas Poll. The telephone survey polled 1,000 adult Texans from Aug. 9-26 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

"High school is the last chance for many students to get this information and some of our children's lives will literally hang in the balance," Susan Moffat, an Austin parent of a public school student, said Tuesday.

Socially conservative organizations, such as Texans for Life and the Texas Eagle Forum, disagree. They have scheduled an "Abstinence Only" news conference in Austin before the state board meeting.

"We have seen what this 'comprehensive' style sex-education is really about - selling sex to kids," said Jim Sedlak of the American Life League, who plans several events, including protests at Planned Parenthood facilities, before the final vote.

"Students need to know that abstinence until marriage is not a mere suggestion, but an expectation," he said.

Members of the Protect Our Kids Campaign said they also support abstinence teaching, but that it is unrealistic by itself.

The Rev. Robert Karli, pastor of First English Lutheran Church, said he and many clergy members support teaching children to wait until marriage to have sex. But he said he also taught his sons about how to use a condom.

Dr. Kimberly Carter, an obstetrician/gynecologist at St. David's Medical Center in Austin, said she sees about 10 pregnant teenagers every week in her practice. She said most have some form of sexually transmitted disease.

"Most say education would have helped them," Carter said.

Texas has the nation's highest teen birth rate, with a rate of 64 per 1,000, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports.

The state-mandated curriculum requires that health books "analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods."

Critics argue that three of the submitted books do not mention latex condoms and therefore do not adhere to the state requirement. One of the books includes a brief description of condoms.

Publishers have argued the books meet the requirements by including more detailed information about contraceptive methods in a separate student supplement and teacher editions.

Under Texas law, school districts have the option of providing abstinence-based sex education studies. Parents also may choose to take their children out of those classes.

By putting contraceptive and other information in the health textbooks, the state would eliminate the parental option on sex ed, said Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life.

"Sex education is not under attack. But you can't opt your kid out of a textbook for a mandatory course," Wright said. "They want to sneak this in the textbooks so parents can't opt out."

She also questioned the "age appropriate" standard in the survey question. She said parents would not have the option to determine what is appropriate for their child.

The 15-member board can only vote to reject books based on errors or failure to follow state curriculum requirements.

The books in question have already been reviewed by a panel of educators and parents appointed by the Texas Education Agency.

The decision could affect dozens of states because books sold in Texas, the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks, are often marketed elsewhere. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market.

<< Associated Press -- 9/8/04 >>

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