TEEN ABORTION RATE PROMPTED SEX EDUCATION CURRICULUM

THE BALTIMORE SUN

From: Nancy Hudson

Ellicott City

I am writing to respond to a recent article in The Howard County Sun ("Sex-education curriculum plan unleashes firestorm," Feb. 10) about the revised ninth-grade sexuality education curriculum.

First,I think it is important for the community to recognize that one of the reasons the ninth-grade curriculum was revised was in response to the hidden problem of teen pregnancy in Howard County.

We as a community only see about one in every three teen pregnancies that occur in Howard County. In 1988, approximately 62 percent of the Howard County teen pregnancies ended in abortion. Our county has the highest teen abortion ratio in the state of Maryland.

This percentage of teen abortions has been consistent for many years. This is much higher than the national average and shows a tremendous need for prevention efforts. The revised ninth-grade sexuality education curriculum is responding to this need.

The paper reported "sharp criticism" from a small group of "conservative parents," especially about one of the sessions of the course curriculum, "Evaluating Relationships: The Differences between Physical Intimacy and Emotional Intimacy."

The paper only reported the shell of the exercise and not the discussion, which, I feel, helps teen-agers to recognize exploitative relationships and learn how to avoid them. Since I have presented this exercise to numerous school, community and church groups, I would like to give the community more information about this exercise.

The exercise begins with the class setting up a scale on the steps of physical intimacy from no touch, through to talking, going out, holding hands, hugging, kissing, touching and sexual intercourse. This is only about 10 minutes of a 45-minute session. After the scale is set up, we discuss what happens if the scale is taken very slowly. The students concludethree things could happen:

1. The relationship ends because one person may want to go faster and the other one doesn't.

2. The relationship ends because the two people find out that, although they were attracted to each other, they don't have a lot in common and they get bored.

3. The relationship gets stronger.

The last scenario is where the most class time is spent. The relationship gets stronger, we conclude, because it is build on a friendship. We write down thequalities of a friendship: common interests and values, mutual respect, honesty, trust, caring, having fun together.

I suggest to students that relationships that develop slowly and are based on friendships are healthier relationships which give them emotional intimacy orcloseness and are less likely to be hurtful, exploitative relationships. I then ask them what they are looking for in a dating relationship. Overwhelmingly, students say they are looking for emotional closeness when they date.

I suggest to them if that is what they are looking for, they don't have to have intercourse to be emotionally close to a person. You can get all these good things out of a relationship without having intercourse.

Another thing I do with the class, using the physical intimacy scale, is talk to them about their personal line of stopping.

It has been my experience working with sexually active teens that many never expected to have intercourse; it just happened. I tell students that if they look at the scale and figure out their personal line of stopping, they are more likely to be able to share their values with their partners and less likely to be swept away. This is the exercise that is causing controversy.

Many Howard County teens have written letters to me about this exercise. Here are some of their comments:

"You really made me think about my stopping point."

"When I get into a situation, I will remember the chart you put up. I will know how to say 'no' and mean it."

"This will make me think first before having intercourse just to get the guy to like me."

"I want to thank you for teaching me about the sex scale. It will really help when I go out on dates."

"With the physical intimacy scale I learned how to get my standards for physical intimacy with the opposite sex."

"I think that doing what you do has a good chance of decreasing teen pregnancy."

Should any parent groupwant more information on the physical intimacy scale to assist teensin evaluating their relationships, I would be happy to speak with any parent group.

There are also several speakers' groups in Howard County that offer presentations on how to talk to your child about sexuality. Contact Pat Johnston from the school system about these presentations at 313-7015.

The Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy sponsors a public awareness campaign called PACT! (Parents and Children Talking), which emphasizes the importance of parents becoming educated on sexuality issues and opening up lines of communication between parent and child.

We also offer free brochures on how to talk to kids about sexuality issues. To learn how to start PACT! programs in your community or to receive free brochures, call the Governor'sCouncil at 333-0270.

Teen pregnancy is a multifaceted problem that demands many different strategies to combat the problem. A strong sex education curriculum is one strategy. If you, as parents in this community, want a strong sex education curriculum to complement your efforts in educating your children on sexuality issues, the time is now to let the school system and the community know.

One group of parents is being very vocal. Do they speak for the majority of parents?

We need well-informed parents combined with a strong sexuality education curriculum in the school working together to effectively decrease teen pregnancy in Howard County. Become informed parents as wellas involved parents.

Editor's note: The writer is a health educator with the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy.

ARTICLE'S 'ERRONEOUS INFERENCES' CONFUSE, MISLEAD PUBLIC

From: Patti Pape Vierkant

Ellicott City

Having been present during a 30-minute interview between reporter Donna Boller and our health education supervisor,Helen Stemler, on Feb. 4, I feel obliged to respond to the erroneousinferences in a recent Howard County Sun article on the public school system's Family Life and Human Sexuality curriculum and provide additional information which is pertinent to public understanding of theissue.

The paper's Feb. 10 article, "Sex education curriculum plan unleashes firestorm," is an obvious attempt to sensationalize and incite. It is hard to understand how you can characterize the unearthing of varying opinions through an established community review process as a "firestorm."

This not only misrepresents the situation but also implies that a fury comparable to the aftermath of a nuclear explosion exists. This is not now, nor has it ever been, the case since family life education was introduced 20 years ago.

To explain the shortcomings of the article, it is necessary to provide some background information.

In accordance with Maryland Public Education Law, the Board of Education of Howard County reviews all curricula dealingwith socially sensitive issues, such as family life and human development, AIDS-prevention education, and child abuse prevention education, before it is introduced to students.

Prior to the board review,proposed curriculum is reviewed by citizen health advisory committees in each of the schools and a countywide health advisory committee comprising, among others, area health professionals and school health educators.

It should be noted that the Concerned Citizens of Howard County, whose representatives were quoted in your article, have several members serving on the countywide committee at the invitation ofDr. Stemler.

Through this review process, committee members have access to draft copies of proposed curriculum. There has never been any attempt, as Ms. Boller's article states, "to keep the proposed curriculum under wraps" until a final version is written.

It has never been our practice to widely distribute "draft" copies of any curriculum because of the confusion that results after changes are made andthe "old" information is still in circulation, but the process is anopen and public one.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of this process is heavily dependent upon the input of the local and systemwide advisory committees who review and react to the curriculum in the context in which it will be taught.

It is expected that substantial changes will be made before the final curriculum proposal is prepared. It is misleading to say that the proposed changes "came under the scrutiny" of the countywide council. We actively pursue their input; it is their role to review and react.

We were also puzzled by your decision to print a 3 1/2-by-6-inch representation of a "proposed" physical intimacy scale, which Dr. Stemler explained to Ms. Boller would be dropped from the rccompanying resources based on comments by local high school review committees.

This creates the type of confusion and misunderstanding I should think you would be trying to help us avoid. The fact that the chart was not even presented as it was intended to be in the curriculum, in the context of postponement of sexual intimacy and disease prevention, creates further opportunity for misinterpretation.

Later in the article, Ms. Boller quotes a parent as feeling that students should learn that rape is a crime and victims should notify police. She fails to provide the additional information that in grades five, six, seven and eight in Howard County, the issueof rape as a crime is presented and reviewed.

In the proposed ninth-grade curriculum under discussion, the topic is covered as a mental health and human trauma issue.

I would hope that in the future The Howard County Sun will take a more thorough and balanced approach,particularly in regard to issues which are of such a sensitive nature. Your presentation of only half the information is a great disservice to the public.

Editor's note: We disagree with the interpretation of some points the writer, who is the public information officer for the county public schools, has made about the article. The phrase, keeping the proposed curriculum "under wraps," was ours, based on HelenStemler's having told the reporter that copies of it were given onlyto the school health council for review and stating that it was not public information. Similarly, the word "scrutiny" was ours, based onStemler's saying the health council was reviewing the proposal. The article noted that the physical intimacy scale was being withdrawn, and the reproduction of the scale was accompanied by a note describingwhat discussions would accompany its use in the classroom. We published the scale to show what parents were objecting to and what was removed from the proposed curriculum.

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