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Area schools focus on risks, abstinence in sex education

Ohio has generally left it up to local school districts to decide what should be taught about human sexuality.

“While ODE works to develop standards in many subject areas, we do not develop curriculum. What curriculum is taught is a local decision,” Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said.

An exception, however, is a section of the Ohio Revised Code instructing that minimum standards for education about venereal disease emphasize abstinence is the only protection “that is 100 percent effective against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and the sexual transmission of a virus caused by” AIDS.

In a 76-19 vote Thursday, the Ohio House scrapped a proposal that would essentially ban comprehensive sex education in Ohio public schools.

Regionally, school districts offer a range of programs — from abstinence-based ones that teach about the risk behavior of having sex outside marriage to more comprehensive approaches where teachers delve into the area of sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs and STDs), pregnancy, even masturbation.

“I am not the distributor of condoms but of honest, truthful, caring information about puberty and the reproductive systems,” said Sarah Lowe, who has been a health and physical education teacher at Yellow Springs High School and the middle school for 35 years. “We have open conversation about the questions swirling around in the minds of teens — the questions that no one may want to answer. My rule is any question will be addressed as long as the intent is not to embarrass or get personal. We discuss HIV/AIDS and other STIs: what they look like, how they are transmitted, what to do if you have one.”

The newspaper asked the superintendents of 20 school districts in Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Clark, Warren, Butler and Preble counties for information on how sex education is taught their districts.

Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop said the district approved a human sexuality program two years ago designed to give parents more options. It came after 18 months of collaboration with the Clark County Combined Health District and three other community organizations that he said have “vastly different views of the issue” — the Community Health Foundation, Marriage Resource Center and Pregnancy Resource Center.

“It has worked extraordinarily well for us,” he said of the program that focuses on letting parents choose what their child learns.

Parents of middle and high school students are given the option of four courses – a health class learning about male and female anatomy, puberty and pregnancy; a class about human anatomy, pregnancy, puberty and discussion of relationship smarts in an eight-session program; a class discussing positive relationships, dating abuse and human anatomy; and parents can also opt their children out of the program. Estrop said most parents allow their children to participate.

Mary Chace, an assistant professor of community health education at Wright State University, believes local control is essential.

“Some school districts need to address certain health behaviors or they may have problems with their graduation rates,” she said. “There are different things going on in different communities. I don’t think it would be wise to tie the hands of any educator or school board that chooses to cover certain topics.”

In small rural Cedar Cliff Local Schools, which has about 605 students, abstinence is the clear focus throughout the health curriculum at the high school and middle school.

Cedarville Middle School teacher Kelsey Jones said in an email, “We do address contraceptives i.e. failure rates and types, but do not cover in-depth. We do address STDs, pregnancy and emotional consequences from the risk behavior of having sex outside of marriage. We also discuss different types of sex and explain the definition but go no further into detail. We teach gateway sex is still sex, just a different kind, and can have physical and emotional consequences. We focus on relationships and use that as an introduction to talk about boundaries and limits with the physical side of the relationship.”

In Dayton Public Schools, a large urban district with nearly 14,000 students, district spokeswoman Jill Moberley said, “Abstinence is taught in our classrooms but our teachers are also sensitive to the real life issues many of our students bring into the classroom. They’re very open in talking to our students about questions they might have.”

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