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Abstinence is the law, but are we complying?

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press

The Texas State Legislature thinks abstinence from sexual activity before marriage is an idea whose time has come - again.

According to section 28.004 of Senate Bill 1, passed by the 74th Texas Legislature, Texas schools must 'direct adolescents to a standard of behavior in which abstinence from sexual activity before marriage is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and infection with HIV/AIDS.'

But is the message getting through? Not clearly in Ellis County.

According to an article in the April 2, 2000 issue of The New York Times, schools are sending a mixed message:

'On the one hand,' states the article, 'bombarded by warnings about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, adolescents are taught abstinence, the sole contraception method taught at one-third of all public schools across the country according to a recent poll by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a private research organization.

'On the other hand,' the article continues, 'teenagers are confronted daily with a culture that has become a very sexy place indeed in which to live.'

Some Ellis County public school officials feel arming students with information about contraceptives and so-called 'safe sex' practices is the answer. A representative from Italy ISD, for instance, said its curriculum 'discusses pros and cons, but we don't encourage (sexual activity).' 

Red Oak ISD's Health Advisory Council is straddling the line, voting to mail a brochure on contraceptives to parents, rather than pass it out in classes.

'We wanted to reinforce abstinence in the regular curriculum,' said Chairperson Sheila Sherman. 'The key components are … healthy choices, refusal skills, abstinence and parental choice.'

Statistics from the Texas Department of Health show in 1999 two percent of all reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea could be ascribed to adolescents 10-14 years of age. Youths ages 15-19 accounted for 40 percent of chlamydia cases, and 32 percent of gonorrhea cases. Additionally, Texas ranked 3rd highest among all states in the nation in teen birth rate for ages 15-17, according to best-available figures.

'These statistics show why we need abstinence,' said Christine Redmond, HIV/STD Program Manager for Public Health Region 3.

In a news release written in August of 1995, State Representative Warren Chisum said, 'There is no question that sexual abstinence before marriage is the only 100 percent effective protection available to them. This is no longer simply a religious issue. It is a health issue. As such, it is time for adults to be responsible enough to say so. We must stop giving mixed messages.'

According to Linda Martin of Aim for Success, a private, non-profit organization that presents abstinence-based educational programs in schools, 'A lot of school districts are not getting in line.' Martin notes Senate Bill 1 requires each district to 'establish a local health education advisory council to assist the district in ensuring that local community values and health issues are reflected in the district's human sexuality instruction.'

'Parents need to know they can be a member of this committee,' says Martin.

Aim for Success programs have been presented in Ennis, Ferris, Italy, Maypearl, Palmer, Red Oak and Waxahachie schools. The program says it 'challenges … teenagers to strive toward excellence by developing self-control, self-respect and self-discipline.'

'We also have a parent program prior to the student program,' says Michael Bodine, Assistant Superintendent in Ferris. 'It's an opportunity for parents to ask questions, to get clarification -- so they feel comfortable.'

Bodine says any member of the public could attend this parent presentation, which is usually publicized with flyers and included in the community calendar in the newspaper.

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