Ohio Senate supports teaching abstinence
Bill would link lessons with VD education

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS -- Schools teaching about venereal disease must emphasize abstinence, discuss the negative consequences of sex before marriage and advise students of the financial responsibilities of parents who have children out of wedlock, under a bill passed Tuesday by the Ohio Senate.

Current law requires the State Board of Education to set minimum standards for venereal disease education, which the board is drafting.

The Senate's 32-0 adoption of House Bill 189 would require the panel to include in its mandated curriculum specific information about abstinence and sexual activity outside of marriage. Individual school districts, which currently can ask the state board for exemptions from certain requirements, would not be permitted to receive waivers from the bill's requirements.

House Bill 189 would require the Ohio Board of Education to require course materials and instruction in venereal disease education to:
  • Stress that students should abstain from sexual activity until after marriage.
  • Teach the potential physical, psychological, emotional and social side effects of participating in sexual activity outside marriage.
  • Teach that conceiving children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, parent and society.
  • Stress that sexually transmitted diseases are serious possible hazards of sexual activity.
  • Advise students of laws pertaining to the financial responsibilities of parenting.
  • Advise students of the circumstances in which it is illegal under Ohio law to have sexual contact with a person under 16.
  • If the somewhat changed bill clears the House as expected, it will head to the governor for his expected approval.

    It is unclear how the proposed changes would affect individual schools, where the curriculum varies from district to district. "I'm sure every school has abstinence as a part of its curriculum," said Paul Marshall, legislative liaison for the Ohio Department of Education.

    "What we're seeing here is a question of emphasis. Schools would be required to emphasize abstinence."

    An official from the Cincinnati Public Schools does not foresee any changes needed if the bill becomes law.

    "Everything on the list can be found somewhere in our health curriculum," said Dick Meyer, the district's agency - student program manager who oversees health instruction.

    CPS doesn't offer a district-wide sex-education program. Rather, students learn sex ed issues in health and science classes where curriculum is decided at a school level, he said. And in all cases, abstinence is stressed, Mr. Meyer said.

    "That's the No. 1 thing," he said.

    All seventh- and eighth-graders participate in "Postponing Sexual Involvement," a program created by Children's Hospital Medical Center.

    House Bill 189 was one of two sex-education measures approved Tuesday by the legislature.

    The other took the form of an amendment to the capital improvements bill passed by the House. It would require the legislature to study any curriculum changes proposed by the Ohio Department of Education regarding health.

    Passed on a voice vote, the amendment was prompted by a study for two state government agencies advocating that teachers adopt slang terms for sexual conduct and body parts in order to improve communication between teachers and students.

    With lists of slang terms for "Sexual Body Parts," "Sexual Behaviors," and "Drugs and Alcohol" on her desk, Rep. Twyla Roman, R-Akron, called the lists "vile" and said she would not disgrace the House by reading them.

    The measure still must be approved by the 33-member Senate, which is scheduled to hear the bill today.

    Both the amendment and House Bill 189 come amid a growing debate over sex education in schools and on the heels of statistics that show sexually transmitted diseases rising in Ohio and across the nation.

    "We're seeing an upswing in chlamydia and gonorrhea this year, and we're not sure why," said Randy Hertzer, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health. Final statistics will not be available until after the first of next year, but he said the incidence of the two diseases is up about 10 percent from last year.

    Prior to the increase, teen-age births and sexually transmitted diseases had been on the decline, according to health department statistics.

    In 1990 and 1991, Ohio recorded 30.1 teen births in every 1,000 live births. In 1996 and 1997, the incidence dropped to 26.4 per 1,000 live births.

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