Student government representatives are lobbying the school board to add a sex education "refresher program" for 11th- and 12th-graders.
The Howard County Association of Student Councils' proposal would expand sex education, which now ends in ninth grade, into a program for 11th- and 12th-graders that would include contraceptive kits.
The contraceptive kits used in school systems vary slightly but usually contain a variety of birth-control devices that teachers use for illustration purposes .
The students rejected a separate sex education course after several pointed out that their schedules are already crowded and the six-period day leaves them with too few electives. Instead, they favor a sex education program that would be incorporated into other existing classes or added to "wellness week" programs.
School board members, introduced to the idea at a luncheon earlier this month with HCASC delegates, were divided in their reaction.
If the students' request is submitted as a formal proposal, its fate seems likely to be determined by board members Deborah D. Kendig and Ruth Y. Hutchinson. Susan J. Cook and Dana F. Hanna are opposed to the request; Karen B. Campbell supports it.
Calling the idea "interesting," board chairwoman Kendig observed that "students are the consumers of our educational system and at times perhaps we should listen to their needs."
Hutchinson said she would think about it but isleaning to opposition: "If the children feel there is a need, I guess we're going to have to meet the need, but I have problems. I'm fromthe old school and I have problems with it."
Hanna noted that proponents of additional sex education point to Howard County's teen abortion rate, the highest in Maryland. But he said he doubts that education is on a teen-ager's mind in the back seat of the car on Saturdaynight.
Illustrating devices with a contraceptive kit "is tacit approval of sexual activity for youngsters -- 'You're going to do it anyway, so let's show you how to do it right,' " Hanna said.
Cook sees the kits as out of place in school: "As for the different types ofcontraceptives and their use, that's not our responsibility. That's a family responsibility."
Campbell, the lone board member to favorthe idea, said her concern was that 11th- and 12th-grades might be too late; students might benefit from the information earlier in theirschool careers.
The student proposal came from a committee appointed by HCASC president Leonard Feldman to study the issue after the Centennial High School student newspaper published a special report inNovember on sex education in the high schools.
Many of the students and faculty members interviewed for the Wingspan supported an expanded sex education program in high school. Students say that older students are more likely than freshmen to be sexually active.
"Kids are too afraid to do the research (on contraceptive techniques) themselves," said committee member Brette Goldstein, an Atholton High student. "They're too afraid their parents will find out."
Whether thestudent request comes to the school board is up to the health education supervisory staff.
"I think the kids have made it clear what they want," said Richard Wright, student activities coordinator. "They're saying, 'Provide us with a wellness-type program that will focus on sex education for 11th- and 12th-graders.' "
Helen M. Stemler, health programs supervisor, said she could not comment on the HCASC proposal until she has discussed it with Wright.
The proposal comesas the school system is revising its ninth-grade family life and human sexuality curriculum. However, Stemler doubted the HCASC proposal could be worked out in time to be presented to the board in April with the revised ninth-grade program.
Contraceptive kits have been used in Baltimore County schools for several years and have not arousedcontroversy among parents, said John S. Heck, health coordinator there. The kits are used in a course called "Approaches to Wellness," usually taken in 11th grade. The course is required for graduation, butparents can remove their children from the sex education component.
"Acceptance has been very good, I'm happy to say," Heck said. "There are parents who object, but my personal feeling, as a health educator and parent, is young people see these things in the Giant (supermarket). It's pretty tough to have them non-existent."
Baltimore city schools also use the contraceptive kits in an elective high schoolcourse on human sexuality to illustrate the types of devices available, said Douglas Nielson, city school spokesman.
Baltimore high school students can obtain contraceptives at the nine high schools thathave in-school Health Department clinics. The contraceptives are available only to students who are clients of the clinics, Nielson said.
"Baltimore city leads the nation in teen-age pregnancies. Obviously, that's a concern of the schools," Nielson said.
Use of contraceptive kits has been discussed in Montgomery County, but no formal proposal has been made to that county's school board.