Running Debate

By Jessica L. Tonn — May 23, 2006 2 min read
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Kansas board members try a new approach to abstinence-only sex ed.

Just three months away from statewide primary elections, Kansas state school board members who have been advocating abstinence-until-marriage sex education are softening their strategy.

Earlier this school year, the board—five of whose 10 seats are up for grabs—made headlines when it passed a policy recommending districts adopt rules that require families to sign their children up to receive sex education, instead of a system that automatically enrolls students and puts the onus on parents to have them opt out.

Then, in April, board member Kathy Martin proposed that the state’s school accreditation standards include a nine-week abstinence-until-marriage course, which would include information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases, in grades 6-9.

In an interview last week, she said that the “safe-sex message” that many schools use “is pretty much bogus.”

According to board member Bill Wagnon, Ms. Martin’s idea did not receive enough support within the panel to continue discussion.

When that request stalled, the board asked the state department of education to come up with a “broad philosophy” statement regarding sex education, said David S. Awbrey, the spokesman for the department. Since 1987, the state has required schools to offer instruction on human sexuality, without specific guidelines, he said.

The department’s proposed policy says that local school boards “shall provide a comprehensive program of abstinence until marriage in human sexuality,” which should also cover contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and disease prevention. If adopted, the abstinence-until-marriage statement would not be tied to schools’ accreditation, and would not be mandated.

Observers note that mandating the policy in state standards would take months, by which point elections could have taken place in five of the 10 board districts, potentially altering the 6-4 majority that conservatives hold over moderates.

Mr. Wagnon said that the department’s statement is “basically the same as what has been in place in Kansas forever.” He asserted that “it’s all about allowing the right wing to get in their verbiage about abstinence until marriage.”

Ms. Martin is adamant that schools send students “the right message” about sex. Schools “need to teach them that it’s a loaded gun you’re playing with,” she said.

The new sex education proposal, she said, does offer “the same information; just the message is different.”

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A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week


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