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Va. Panel Proposes Cutting Sex-Education Mandate

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Virginia should repeal its sex-education requirements, a commission appointed by Gov. George F. Allen says in a report unveiled last week.

The panel also called for the establishment of charter schools, stricter discipline policies, and consequences for schools that do not meet rigorous academic standards. Unlike a separate panel advising Mr. Allen, however, the commission did not call for private school vouchers.

Governor Allen created the 49-member Commission on Champion Schools last summer. Although the Governor has not officially endorsed the recommendations, he praised the commission for "moving forward in the right direction."

The report is expected to heavily influence his legislative agenda, which Mr. Allen announced last week will also include a proposed $2.1 billion cut in state income taxes over five years.

The proposal to eliminate mandatory sex education was clearly the report's most controversial provision. If the panel's plan became law, experts say, it would be one of the nation's most conservative policies of its kind.

Last week, many conservative parents hailed the proposal, saying it would return authority over such issues to parents. But many local parent groups and sex-education advocates were outraged, fearing it could prevent teenagers from learning how to protect themselves from pregnancy or diseases such as aids.

Virginia districts are currently required to offer a "family life education" course, although parents can opt to remove their children from the class. The commission advised letting districts decide whether to offer such a course and what its content should be, and not allowing children to enroll in it without explicit permission from their parents.

No Vouchers Here

But another proposal important to many conservatives was conspicuously absent from the commission's report: a school-choice program that would offer public funds to help pay private school tuition. Another task force, appointed by the Governor last February to urge reforms in many aspects of state government, recently decided to recommend consideration of such a program.

Rep. J. Paul Councill Jr., the chairman of the House Education Committee of the state legislature, said last week that a choice bill might be introduced in the legislature but that it would probably not pass. As for the commission's other recommendations, he said: "They're debatable, but they have reasonably good support."

A subcommittee of the Commission on Champion Schools is drafting proposed academic standards for the state's schools, and the new report recommends instituting a complementary assessment program. Schools that met the standards would be subject to less regulation.

The commission also recommended making it easier for educators to discipline students without fear of civil liability, allowing schools to require student uniforms, and allowing them to take legal action against parents who fail to cooperate with disciplinary measures.

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