State News

Broader sex ed curriculum sought

Posted February 3, 2009 11:31 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Some North Carolina lawmakers and health advocates want parents to choose what public schools teach their children about sex.

They promoted legislation Tuesday that would create a two-track system for sex education in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

Current law makes abstinence-until-marriage curriculum the predominant method in school districts. Districts must go through a long process before they can offer comprehensive sex education that discusses contraception.

A bill expected to be introduced next week would require both types of sex education be taught statewide. Parents would decide which type their children would receive.

"We should take a step forward and definitely be something for other states to watch and for them to model after," said Sydney Brunson, a student at Jordan High School in Durham.

Two years ago, a bill that would have expanded sex education to promote safe-sex practices in addition to encouraging abstinence failed in the General Assembly.

The latest proposal is modeled after a choice program in New Hanover County, where three out of four students opt for the comprehensive curriculum.

Wake County Human Services medical director Dr. Peter Morris said he hopes the proposal would lead to fewer unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

North Carolina has the ninth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, according to state statistics. Teen pregnancies cost about $312 million a year, while prevention programs get about $2.5 million in funding.

"North Carolina's youth deserve to receive life-saving information," said state Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe.

John Rustin, vice president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said offering an option beyond abstinence-only education would confuse teens and muddy the issue.

"We think that the message ought to be consistent that these are very risky sexual behaviors, that they are going to put you at harm and that they are behaviors you ought not to engage in," Rustin said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said such a message can be delivered in more than one format.

"It is important to have information," Atkinson said. "Just because you teach children (about) communism does not mean children will become communists."