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Calif. Advisers Approve Guide for Health, Sex Education

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Despite opposition from an organization of religious conservatives, the state curriculum commission in California has approved a new health- and sex-education framework for the public schools.

The church group, known as the Traditional Values Coalition, objects in particular to sections of the curriculum dealing with homosexuality.

Approval of the framework by the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission late last month cleared the way for consideration of it this summer by the state board of education, where opponents have vowed to continue their fight to delete all references to gays.

The 94-page health-education framework is the result of a year and a half of research and field study by an advisory body to the state board.

Designed as a framework for more structured curriculum models created by the department of education, the model is the first update of California's health curriculum since 1978.

Developers of the framework describe it as one of the first in the nation to suggest a comprehensive model of health education integrating health, sex, and physical instruction, teacher training, community resources, and parental involvement.

A Conduit for Change?

A series of public hearings by the commission had revealed broad support for the framework. During the final hearing last month, however, conservative groups sharply criticized elements of the section on sex education.

The most vocal opponent of the outline was the Traditional Values Coalition, an evangelical group representing 25,000 churches nationwide.

The coalition questioned passages from the "Family Growth and Development'' section, including such references to homosexuality as a mention of nontraditional families with same-sex adults. The group also objected to portions dealing with teenage sexual activity.

The curriculum commission responded to the criticisms by strengthening passages on traditional families and emphasizing abstinence and parental influence in the health-education process.

While other religious and social groups said they were satisfied with the alterations, the Traditional Values Coalition continued to demand the removal from the guidelines of all discussion of homosexuality.

"This document says that public schools should be a conduit for social change,'' said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, the chairman of the coalition. "It shows the education department's insensitivity to rank-and-file people.''

Mr. Sheldon said his group will continue to lobby the state board on the contested guidelines. Passage of the current framework, he suggested, would lead to greater support for a statewide school-choice initiative slated for the November ballot, which would provide state vouchers for parents to enroll their children in private schools.

Acknowledging Diversity

Planners of the document say it reflects current mores. "We are acknowledging the diversity of society,'' argued Glen Thomas, the executive director of the curriculum commission.

Mr. Thomas also emphasized that the proposed guidelines are not mandatory. School districts that object to state curriculum guides are able to petition for alternative curricula and still receive state funding.

Mr. Thomas said discussion of the framework would be better focused on some of its innovative suggestions, such as community-based school-health clinics. "That is a much more potentially controversial and challenging issue,'' he suggested.

Although the state board has not yet taken a position on the guidelines, its chairman, Joe Stein, said the panel will reject any aspects that are not related directly to health education.

"We will not be diverted into socioeconomics or telling people how to live their lives,'' Mr. Stein said.

In July, the state board will hold public meetings and review the material. Final consideration of the framework is slated for the board's September meeting.

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