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Back to Feb. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 157 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS FEBRUARY 1999

Minnesota's New Sex Ed Program on Right Track
But critics (led by the ACLU) are already trying to derail it


Katherine Kersten
OSSEO, MN - Beginning this year, the Osseo School District will offer a two-track sex education curriculum for junior and senior high school students, and parents will have the right to choose which track they prefer for their children. The first track consists of a "comprehensive" or "safer sex" curriculum. The second is an "abstinence only" curriculum. Critics are already complaining about the abstinence-only track, and the Minnesota ACLU is threatening to sue.

The "safer sex" curriculum assumes that many teens will engage in sex, so its aim is to provide them with the knowledge and skills to do so "safely." The new abstinence curriculum presents abstinence as the desired standard of behavior, and helps students to develop the character traits necessary to achieve it. The abstinence curriculum covers reproductive biology and sexually transmitted diseases, along with the social role of marriage and the personal benefits of a committed marriage. Students will learn about birth control, but will focus on the health risks of having sex rather than on the use of contraceptives. The course will instruct students in how to avoid "sexually compromising situations."

Writing in The Weekly Standard magazine, Katherine Kersten, senior fellow for cultural studies at Minnesota's Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis, says parents have good reason to expect that their children will benefit from the new curriculum. "Teens are crying out for strong messages about abstaining from sex," Kersten writes. "Today, almost 52% of high school students report that they are abstinent, an 11% increase since 1991."

Kersten cites a 1997 survey by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, in which 68% of responding teens said they thought it "very important" that teens be given a "strong message" to abstain from sex until they are at least out of high school. Another survey by Emory University found that 84% of sexually active teenage girls wanted information from adults on how to say no to sex without hurting boys' feelings.

While Osseo's two-track program provides an option for parents, critics accuse the abstinence-only track of failing to be "inclusive" or to reflect "diversity." Katherine Kersten maintains that the opposite is true. "The new plan creates diversity where none existed before," she says, "by giving a voice to parents who believe that sex belongs within marriage, and who want their children's public school instruction to respect their beliefs on this vital aspect of life."

The ACLU disagrees. Its Reproductive Freedom Project, launched in 1974 and based in New York City, fights abstinence-only curricula in the schools. According to Kersten, the project's literature claims that abstinence education courses are guilty of "censorship" because they withhold information students need to "control their lives," thereby impeding their "full exercise" of their "reproductive rights." The ACLU project further claims that such curricula "instill fear and shame" and are "laden with racist and sexist stereotypes and religious prescriptions for proper behavior and values."

Kersten explains that the Reproductive Freedom Project "works with ACLU state affiliates as they build coalitions of educators, parents, and activists to lobby school boards, mount public relations efforts, and monitor districts." Their goal is to seek cases that lend themselves to legal challenges. She notes: "When it comes to sexuality education, it is clear which kind of liberty the ACLU and its allies value most."


 
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