Howard County will be targeted this week in a special effort to get parents to talk with their children about sexuality and prevention ofteen pregnancy.
The Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy isasking parents and children to set aside time Thursday night to discuss sexual issues. In other parts of the state, the council is encouraging workshops and seminars this month to promote family communication.
The council focused on Howard County because of "a major concern with sex education and parents feeling disempowered" and because of the county's high teen abortion rate, said Erlene B. Wilson, public affairs officer.
County teen-agers had the highest ratio of abortions to live births in Maryland in 1988, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The Governor's Council, which collects the information, reported that of 287 pregnancies to girls 19 and younger, 179 were terminated by abortions.
Wilson also referred to complaints from parents last winter about proposed revisions in the ninth-grade sex education curriculum. Some parents argued that parts of the curriculum were too explicit and that abstinence was not given adequate prominence.
School officials made some changes in response to the criticisms.
Wilson said the home discussions are "another tool to use in reducing teen pregnancies."
Wilson said local sponsorship for the discussion night came from a committee that represents agencies concerned with children.
In addition, Clergy for Social Justice, a county group representing Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations, agreed to pass along the council's brochures and fact sheets to interested clergy.
The "Parents And Children Talking" night has not attracted public criticism locally. Wilson said she thinks it is the kind of program people with a range of views, liberal to conservative, can support.
Local PTAs are distributing brochures and fact sheets, and lists of typical questions are available at school offices for interested parents.
At Bryant Woods Elementary School, for example, the PTA home and family committee sent the material home with a cover letter explaining PACT night and asking parents to talk to their children that night about sexuality.
Oakland Mills Middle School PTA President Brenda Hensley also endorsed PACT night.
"I feel that many families that don't have open communication need this,"she said.
The questions listed as typical for middle and high school students were taken from real questions asked by students in thatage group, said Pat Johnston, school system AIDS prevention specialist. The health education and pupil services staffs put together typical elementary school questions from questions parents have reported in workshops, she said.
Johnston is trying to get one PTA from eachlevel -- elementary, middle and high -- to evaluate the discussion nights. Parents in the schools selected will be asked to fill out evaluation forms and return them to the PTAs. Johnston also plans to survey PTA presidents from all schools.