State News

N.C. Senate panel approves changes to sex ed bill

Posted June 10, 2009 1:41 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2009 6:06 p.m. EDT

— The state Senate reworked a public school sex education bill from the House that finally cleared a committee Wednesday but pleased neither the bill's chief sponsor nor some social conservatives.

The bill - approved in the Senate Mental Health & Youth Services Committee - would require all school systems to offer information to students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades about the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

But the measure would be part of a larger reproductive health education curriculum that would still retain the abstinence-until-marriage curriculum that remains the current offering for nearly all 115 state school districts.

And parents would be able to keep their children from participating in classes with the more detailed information on contraceptives.

The House version would require schools to teach two separate tracks - one abstinence-based and the other the comprehensive sex education that's similar to what a handful of districts are allowed to teach.

Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, one of the House bill's primary sponsors, said she didn't ask for the changes from the Senate. The measure had been stuck in the Senate committee for a month because support had lagged in the chamber.

"It will not give parents the full spectrum of choices that we had wanted to offer them," Fisher said after the committee meeting. "It will limit our ability to get that solid, medically accurate information out to all children, and those who need it the most in a lot of cases."

The bill could be voted on Thursday by the full Senate. Negotiating a compromise between competing versions may follow if it's approved.

The House version also would require parents to fill out a permission slip for a child to participate in a track, or choose that their child get no sex education.

Opponents to the House bill didn't speak up in committee. But Bill Brooks with the North Carolina Family Policy Council said his group believes the Senate version is no better and would open the door - even in the abstinence curriculum - to teach that premarital sex is accepted.

Educators will use the bill provision that the new curriculum be "peer reviewed and accepted by professionals and credentialed experts" to attempt to crowd out the teaching that abstinence is the only certain way to prevent pregnancy and disease, according to Brooks.

"The state ought not to be teaching kids to do things that are not in their best interest, and having sex before they are married in a relationship to have sex and to have children is just not a good idea," he said.

But one conservative, Sen. Jim Forrester, R-Gaston, said he was pleased that parents would still be able to opt out their children from the comprehensive portion of the curriculum.

Christian conservatives argue the abstinence curriculum, which has been the default school offering in North Carolina since the mid-1990s, has been successful in reducing the number of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases nationwide and in North Carolina. Proponents of the curriculum change said the state remains in the top 10 in both categories.

Dr. Marian Earls, president of the North Carolina Pediatric Society, urged senators to ensure that teenagers have enough information to make informed choices about sexuality.

Otherwise, she said, it's like giving them "the keys to the car and refusing to give them information on how to drive."