A revised ninth-grade sex education curriculum adopted by the schoolboard Thursday contains many of the changes sought by critics, including increased emphasis on abstinence.
"They've come a long way. They've made some dramatic improvements from where they were in January," said Thomas R. Win ings, bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ellicott City and a member of the countywide School Health Advisory Council.
Winings praised Helen M. Stemler, supervisor of health programs, for working with community members on the changes during the last several months.
He said he still would like to see exercises that teach students what he calls "core values."
Winings suggested exercises that would ask students to agree or disagree with statements such as "I would not engage in premarital intercourse because I feel it iswrong," for example, "as opposed to 'Do I put on a condom or not?' "
He was referring to a confidential questionnaire designed to helpstudents clarify their personal limits on sexual behavior by answering questions such as "I am willing to use a condom (for males) or my partner must be willing to use a condom (for females) to reduce risks."
Parents critical of the proposed course of study for ninth-graders introduced in January charged that it failed to stress abstinenceor point out that rape is a crime, and that it overemphasized physical intimacy and birth control information. Others opposed coeducational classes in the family life and human sexuality course.
Studentswill continue to receive information about birth control methods, but abstinence will be stressed.
"We are telling them that abstinence is the healthiest choice for them, and for those who are already sexually active, 'secondary virginity,' a return to abstinence," Stemler said.
Teachers will remind the ninth-graders that rape, including date rape, is a crime and can be prosecuted.
An "intimacy scale," ranging from "no physical touch" to "sexual intercourse," was scrapped earlier and has been replaced by discussions on building healthy dating relationships.
High school family life and sexuality classes will remain coeducational.
Students had asked Stemler to includecontraceptive kits that illustrate birth control devices, but Stemler said last week that she would not propose the kits as part of the ninth-grade curriculum.
The curriculum "is not as value-neutral as it was before," said Board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig. "It may not go as far as some parents want."
Parents must give permission for their children to attend sex education classes. The revised curriculum notes that students whose parents do not permit them to attend mustbe given "educationally sound alternative activities" during that class time.
In this school year, 99 percent of fifth-graders and middle school students received parents' permission to attend family life and human sexuality classes. In the high schools, 98 percent of freshmen participated.