School Officials To Remove Film Mentioning Intercourse

Decision Prompted By Parents' Complaints

December 15, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,SUN STAFF

County school officials plan to remove a filmstrip that mentions sexual intercourse from fifth-grade sex education classes in response toparents' objections.

Discussions of sexual intercourse are not part of the fifth-grade family life and human sexuality curriculum. Some parents feared children who heard the term in the filmstrip would ask about it, Helen M. Stemler, health programs supervisor, said at the school board meeting Thursday.

Stemler expects the revisions in the fifth-grade course to be less controversial than changes in the ninth-grade curriculum, which brought a barrage of criticism from conservative parents and church groups last spring. The fifth-grade course excludes the sensitive topic of contraception, she added.

Objections to the mention of intercourse surfaced when members of an elementary school sex education advisory committee met last spring to go over the curriculum changes, Stemler reported.

"It was a heated debate," she said, with some parentsarguing that children need to learn about sexual relations and others saying they are too young.

Her answer was to remove the filmstrip, but the topic of intercourse is covered in a booklet available to parents who want tips on how to talk to their children about sex.

The board is scheduled to vote on the revised curriculum at its next meeting, Jan. 9. Stemler said few changes were made from the existingcourse other than deletion of the filmstrip and addition of a three-part video, "Changing," which describes physical changes at puberty.

In the two-week family life and human sexuality unit, children learn about the roles of family members, interpersonal relationships andphysical, social and emotional changes at puberty. Students must have parents' permission for the physical-development classes, which aretaught separately to boys and girls.

Board member Susan J. Cook asked why teachers explain the changes girls go through at puberty to boys and vice versa.

Stemler replied that the Maryland State Department of Education requires that youngsters learn about changes in the opposite sex, "but we minimize it. We don't teach boys about femalepersonal hygiene."

Cook said later that she didn't object to the content, but felt that 10 or 11 years old might be too young. "I was just concerned about age appropriateness," she said.

The handbook -- called "Let's Talk!" -- will be available to parents at elementaryschool offices. It was put together by a committee of county Health Department staff members, teachers, administrators and county PTA Council members, and includes a list of topics covered in fifth- and sixth-grade sex education classes.

Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna raisedthe issue of commercial content in the proposed video on bodily changes. The video, produced by a manufacturer of sanitary napkins, recommended that girls not use tampons because of possible medical problems. It did not go on to discuss toxic shock syndrome, which has been traced to use of tampons.

"It was a soft sell. It wasn't literally,'Buy our product,' " Hanna said. "I'm not necessarily averse to it, but I just think we have to be very wary. We just have to make sure we're conscious of what we're getting."

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