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State Journal: Sex, schools, trouble; Cut the 'bull'

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As the 1990 legislative season gets under way, lawmakers in at least two states are struggling with the problem of teachers who have sex with students.

In both Alaska and Washington State--where the age of consent is 16--bills have been introduced to prohibit sexual contact between educators and students under age 18.

The Alaska measure was prompted by the recent dismissal of criminal charges against an Anchorage high-school teacher who allegedly had sex with a 17-year-old student.

The case attracted an unusual amount of attention after police seized large quantities of school records as part of their probe.

The Washington bill follows the state board of education's adoption this fall of a professional code of ethics that, in effect, allows sex between educators and 16- or 17-year-old students provided they are from different school districts.

The board considered a ban on such relations, but decided after vigorous debate to ask the legislature instead to raise the age of consent to 18.

Sponsors of the measure sharply criticized the board's decision, calling it "reprehensible."

"No standard of teacher conduct is too strict when it comes to safeguarding the well-being of our children," said Representative John W. Betrozoff.

A provision in a bill introduced in the Washington Senate, meanwhile, would make it illegal--albeit without criminal penalties--for anyone under the age of 18 to engage in sexual intercourse.

"Sometimes you have to hit people with a club to get their attention," said the bill's sponsor, Senator James E. West. "This bill is a club."

The main goal of the legislation would be to revamp the state's aids curricula, which bill sponsors say teach too much about "safer sex" methods and not enough about the benefits of sexual abstinence.

One phase of Ohio's 1989 school-reform law goes into operation next month with the opening of a new office of education accountability.

One lawmaker recently offered a caustic analysis of why the office, a watchdog agency under the legislature, is needed.

In the past, said Representative Daniel Troy, legislators had to base evaluations of school efforts solely on information provided by educators, who assured them that their programs were doing fine and deserved more money.

Such interested parties are unlikely to admit that "'We're not doing so well. Why don't you cut my budget?"' Mr. Troy said.

The new office will "cut through the bull," he added.


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