Ga. Panel Proposes Broadening Teaching About Sex
In the latest round of a tumultuous battle over how sex should be taught in Georgia schools, a state advisory panel has urged that the state's sex-education curriculum be revised by broadening the definition of family, starting AIDS education earlier, and changing how homosexuality is discussed in the classroom.
The panel's recommendations, which have drawn sharp criticism from conservative Christian groups, were scheduled to be considered by the state board of education next week.
Before issuing its report last month, the 24-member advisory panel appointed by Gov. Zell Miller voted 13 to 3 against a measure that would have taught 5th graders to "identify a family as those members related by blood, marriage, or adoption.''
The final report says the definition of family could also include unmarried couples who live together and have children, for example, or lesbian couples who have children by artificial insemination.
The panel also agreed, however, to instruct 5th graders that "having children is best undertaken in marriage.''
On AIDS, the panel urged that 4th graders be informed that the disease "affects some adults, but rarely affects children.''
Georgia schools currently do not permit discussions about AIDS until the 6th grade.
By the 5th grade, the panel proposed, students should be taught methods to avoid H.I.V. infection and other sexually transmitted diseases, while 6th graders should be told how condoms can reduce the risk of contracting the disease.
In addition, the panel voted 14 to 3 to recommend that homosexuality be included in discussions of sex roles, in an effort to eliminate negative stereotypes. State curriculum standards currently allow homosexuality to be mentioned only in the context of discussing sexual practices that are illegal under state law.
The panel's recommendations are the latest move in a tug of war over sex education that has evoked strong feelings on both sides of the issue.
Last spring, the legislature passed a bill that limited sex-education lessons by requiring that "nothing taught would violate Georgia law.''
The measure also required local school boards to oversee sex-education courses to insure that only "appropriate'' materials were included.
The law was strongly opposed by the Georgia Association of Educators, which argued that it would have severely limited teachers' options and created repercussions for sex educators.
Critics also contended that Georgia law, which prohibits nonmarital sexual relations, is antiquated and would have allowed only the teaching of abstinence before marriage.
"Their guidelines were so restrictive, if you shook hands with somebody, it was a violation of abstinence,'' said Kay Pippin, a lobbyist for the G.A.E.
Governor Miller vetoed the legislation as unduly restrictive. Instead, he appointed a panel of teachers, administrators, and health professionals to review the curriculum and make recommendations to the state board, which is slated to take up the revisions on Nov. 11.
Conservative religious groups that have actively opposed sex education in schools said they were unhappy with the panel's decisions.
"It's not sex education, it's sexuality training,'' said Nancy Schaefer, the president of a group called Family Concerns and an organizer of rallies opposing the advisory panel's work.
"It's extremely pro-homosexual, and we are pro-traditional-family,'' Ms. Schaefer said.
Opponents of the panel's proposals also contend that expanding sex education in the schools will lead to increases in the state's already high teenage-pregnancy rate.
Thirteen percent of the state's teenage girls became pregnant at least once in 1985, the third-highest rate in the nation, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
But supporters of the new proposals say that there is no evidence that teaching about sex increases teenage-pregnancy rates, and that young people need more help in avoiding the dangers they face.
"They need to be protected from AIDS and teen pregnancy, and I am just looking out for them,'' said Joe Ann Huebner, a 5th-grade special-education teacher from Cobb County.
"We aren't getting down into the nitty-gritty here,'' Ms. Huebner observed. "We are just telling them about the consequences.''