Harford school board eyes sex ed changes

Curriculum deficiencies in middle schools are noted by panel

January 14, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

The Harford County Board of Education is scheduled to vote next month on changes in the middle school sex education curriculum -- to include ma- terial on sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy -- that would bring the school system in line with most others in the state.

A committee recommended the changes in the fall after finding that Harford lagged behind most other systems in its curriculum.

Schools spokesman Don Morrison said the administration office has received about a dozen e-mails since early last month on the issue. And at a meeting last month, a handful of members of the public spoke -- all but one in favor of change.

"It appears that there's not a groundswell of opposition to the changes," he said.

The family life committee was asked by the school board last year to research what other counties were teaching in the middle schools. The group talked with 22 of the state's 24 jurisdictions and found that "Harford County is the only county ... that has not included information about STDs -- except for HIV-AIDS -- or teen pregnancy in the middle school curriculum," said Joan Hayden, a committee member who teaches at Bel Air High School.

The HIV-AIDS curriculum has not been updated since 1983, said Sue Garrett, supervisor of Career and Technology Education, who also works with the committee.

Administrators considered a long list of questions posed by middle school pupils in class about sexual situations, diseases and pregnancy in their decision to update the curriculum, Garrett said.

Hayden noted that other instruction has suffered as a result of Harford's policy. For example, pupils get information in class about how to make good decisions and stand up for themselves in a range of situations, some sexually based. But teachers have had to address them in an "around-the-barn kind of manner," she said, because they cannot discuss pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as potential consequences of poor decision-making.

"We've really had our hands tied," Hayden said. "We haven't been able to find any written documents that said this wouldn't be taught. It just never has been."

The board is scheduled to decide on the proposed changes at its Feb. 24 meeting, and parents can comment on the plan at that meeting or at its Jan. 27 or Feb. 10 meetings.

Morrison said the superintendent's office has not sent parents information about the changes, but principals were encouraged to speak to their PTAs and publicize the proposals. The Harford public schools Web site (www.co.ha.md.us/harford_ schools) also includes information and a link for comments.

Cindy Mumby, second vice president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, said her organization is focused on getting the word out to the community, using an e-mail network, so parents and concerned residents can share their views.

"The curriculum needs to reflect community values," she said. "How can it, if we remain silent?"

Diane Knowles, parent of an eighth-grader at Bel Air Middle School and a junior at Bel Air High School, said she had heard rumors that students would be discussing oral sex as part of the curriculum, but she saw no evidence of that in the information she read on the Web site.

Her concern is offering children too much information too early. "Then they're going to become curious about it -- we have to be careful."

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