Sex ed could be required


February 9th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Some lawmakers want to mandate sexual education for school districts across the state. It’s an effort to counter an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in Douglas County.

Lawmakers say it's time to update sexual health education in schools (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Douglas County has some of the highest rates of STDs in the nation. In fact, the rates for gonorrhea and Chlamydia are 50 percent higher than the national average. Valda Boyd Ford is the Sexually Transmitted Infections Coordinator for the Douglas County Health Department. She presented those numbers to the Education Committee at a hearing at the Capitol Tuesday. In her testimony, she said for seven years, since the epidemic was first identified, the problem has persisted, and young people are not receiving the education they need to avoid it.

“Students tell me that the information they receive from their parents and teachers is pitifully incomplete and woefully out of date,” Boyd said. “They tell me that they lack the pertinent, relevant, age-appropriate information they need. They talk about sexting, cyber bullying and cyber stalking. They talk about date rape, they talk about peer pressure that leads to alcohol and drug use, and the subsequent unwanted and unprotected sexual acts that change their futures forever.”

“They cry out for help from knowledgeable people who are not afraid to talk about the world they live in.”
Supporters of the bill, which was introduced by Omaha Senator Brenda Council, included the Nebraska AIDS Project, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Building Bright Futures and the ACLU. Opponents included the Nebraska Catholic Conference, Nebraskans United for Life, and the Nebraska Association of School Boards. That group testified that the bill would add more pressure to budget-stretched school districts, and that teaching without community support would not be effective. Ann Marie Bowen is one of those community members. She testified the issue of teen sexuality is a community matter not a state matter, and the proposal would violate the rights of the “morally sensitive” student.

“When our youth looks to their teachers for guidance and get only raw information back, then it enables dangerous behaviors that are long-lasting,” she said. “This bill cynically requires the instructor to begin teaching the lesson of sexual abstinence, but only to [switch] gears, toss up their hands and spend the rest of their time discussing the options.”

Senator Council said while she agrees that abstinence should be stressed, sexual education should be comprehensive and young people must be informed of the risks of engaging in sexual activity. Council’s bill would require “age-appropriate” sexual health education. The bill does not specify when the curriculum should begin, but Council suggested it could start as early as middle school. The bill would also allow parents to excuse their children from participating. The Education Committee must advance the bill, before it could get to the full Legislature for debate.

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