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Louisiana Court Bars District From Using Sex-Ed Program Teaching Abstinence

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A Louisiana state judge has barred the Caddo Parish school board from using a sex-education curriculum that teaches students to abstain from sexual intercourse until after marriage on the grounds that it is "medically inaccurate'' and contains "religious beliefs.''

The ruling represents the first time parents have succeeded in using the courts to block a school board from using a sex-education curriculum on religious and medical grounds, said Allison A. Jones, the lawyer for the parents who filed the suit.

Ms. Jones said she expects the decision to have broad implications for other Louisiana districts that are considering adopting such curricula as well as for other states where similar lawsuits are pending.

"This decision is a victory for the students of Caddo Parish who need sex education that is factually accurate and free from religious intolerance,'' she said last week.

The school board currently uses a curriculum developed by a local university that includes instruction about AIDS and contraception.

The school board voted 7 to 5 last fall to replace the curriculum with "Sex Respect'' and a supplemental text, "Facing Reality,'' both of which teach teenagers to abstain from sex until after marriage and make only limited references to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The school board decided not to implement the new curricula, however, until after the case was resolved.

Ms. Jones said local parents organized to fight the board's decision through the courts because they "wanted sex education, not scare tactics or false stereotypes.''

"We have to give kids factual and complete information, because someday they are going to be adults and will have to make decisions on their own,'' said Mary Denney, one of eight plaintiffs in the case.

'Very Disappointed'

In issuing his opinion in the case, Bettye Coleman et al. v. Caddo Parish School Board, State District Judge Frank H. Thaxton ruled this month that the curriculum violates a state law mandating that sex-education materials contain factual information on human sexuality and that they not include "religious beliefs or subjective, moral, or ethical judgments.''

Judge Thaxton specifically faulted a passage in Sex Respect's teaching guide that outlines the "spiritual consequences of promiscuity.'' Also violating the statute, he said, is a passage that reads: "No one can deny that nature is making some kind of a comment on sexual behavior through the AIDS and herpes epidemics.''

Kathleen Sullivan, the director of Project Respect, which publishes the curriculum, said she was "very, very disappointed'' by the decision, which, she predicted, will hurt sales.

She said the curriculum is currently used in more than 3,000 classrooms across the country.

"Our statements are being censored,'' Ms. Sullivan said last week, "while the type of sex education they are teaching today borders on obscenity and pornography.''

Fred Sutherland, the lawyer for the school board, called the decision "clearly wrong.''

And though the ruling is binding only on the parties in the case, he said, the decision provides "no latitude'' for other Louisiana districts to adopt similar abstinence programs.

He said the school board plans to meet this week to decide whether to appeal the decision.

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