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Sex-Education Plan Urging Chastity Sparks Controversy in South Carolina

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By Ellen Flax

School-board members in Beaufort County, S.C., have come under attack from local educators, medical professionals, and students for mandating that a controversial chastity-oriented sex-education program be taught to high-school seniors.

The curriculum, "Sex Respect," advises students to avoid all sexual activity--including necking and petting--until marriage. But local critics argue that the program, which includes such slogans as "Pet your dog, not your date," and "Control your urgin', be a virgin," does not meet the needs of area teenagers, many of whom are thought to be sexually active.

Touted by Federal Agency

A 1988 state law requires all districts to offer instruction on pregnancy-prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, and other family-life and health-education topics.

A local advisory council, which included educators, health professionals, students, and members of the clergy, recommended that the Beaufort school board adopt a state-approved curriculum that is being used in more than 80 percent of the state's school districts.

Instead, the board last August adopted Sex Respect, which includes no information on birth control, menstruation, or sexual reproduction. Over the past five years, the curriculum has been taught in 15 public schools in four states as a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-funded demonstration program to promote sexual abstinence among teenagers.

An hhs evaluation of the program completed last year concluded that ''participants have substantial increases in their support for the value of premarital virginity."

The program, which teaches adolescents how to say no to premarital sex, was written by a health-educator, Coleen Kelly Mast, who once worked for a parochial school. It encourages students who have been sexually active to adopt a "secondary virginity" and delay all further sexual involvement until marriage.

Kent Mast, the author's husband and the president of Respect Inc., a for-profit Illinois company that markets Sex Respect, said the program is used in about 1,100 school districts.

'Totally Unrealistic'?

In Beaufort, opposition to the board's decision became more vocal last fall, when the Coalition for Responsible Education, a group of parents, medical professionals, clergy, educators, and students gathered about 2,500 signatures on a petition opposing the curriculum.

And earlier this year, just as the 15-week course was about to begin, parents of about one-third of the district's approximately 650 seniors chose to remove their children from the class.

Ernest F. Marchetti, the school board's chairman, said he believes the chastity-based curriculum "is a better solution than the tried and failed efforts of the sex-education courses that have prevailed throughout the country."

But Joseph Floyd, a pediatrician who heads the coalition urging the board to adopt the state-approved program, said that the program is ineffective because "when the kids look at the book, they laugh."

Debra Haffner, the executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, called the curriculum "totally unrealistic."

"It presents a very narrow view of sexuality," she said. "If you are going to promote delaying intercourse, then you need to teach them what they can do [sexually] and be honest with them."

"I don't think the lady who wrote this is in touch with real society," said Christopher Gatch, the student council president of Battery Creek High School, and a member of the local advisory panel. "It goes a little too far in pushing values on people."

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