Concerns arise about revised sex ed curriculum

It should be taught in 7th grade, panel says

October 26, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The revised Harford County middle school sex education curriculum - that includes material on sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy - should be taught in seventh grade because of inconsistency in instruction and time taken away from gym classes if the lessons are taught in eighth grade, a committee told the Board of Education last week.

In February, the board brought its middle schools in line with most others in the state by approving a revised sex education curriculum that is slated to be taught in eighth-grade physical education classes, starting in September. But at last week's meeting, a committee recommended to the school board that the three-week classes focusing on abstinence be moved into the seventh-grade health or science curriculum, which includes lessons on family life.

Many of the county's middle school pupils are pulled from gym classes every other day for band, orchestra or chorus, which would interrupt instruction of the sex education lessons, Donna Sebly, Family Life Committee chairwoman, told school board members.

Also, school officials who are working on the revised curriculum are finding that the ma- terial fits more appropriately with the health and science content standards than with physical education, Sebly said.

Another concern is that the sex education lessons would reduce gym time time for eighth-graders. Sebly said this is a problem, especially with the rising rate of child obesity. She provided an article to the board outlining her point.

Board President Robert S. Magee said after the meeting that the board would consider the curriculum proposal in the spring. Board members Eugene C. Chandler, Mark M. Wolkow and Terry R. Troy, said they support teaching the revised sex education curriculum in seventh grade.

The Family Life Committee's recommendation is the latest development in its effort, which began last year, to research what other counties were teaching in sex education in middle schools.

The committee found that Harford County lagged behind other systems in its curriculum. After talking to 22 of the state's 24 school districts, the group found that Harford was the only county that did not teach middle school pupils about sexually transmitted diseases or teen pregnancy. However, the middle school curriculum did include discussions on AIDS. During a school board meeting last week, Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said it was controversial to approve the revised sex education curriculum in the eighth grade.

At the same time, Haas said, "It has always been the position of the citizen advisory committee that younger children than [those] in the eighth grade can absorb the material."

Regardless, Sebly said, the Family Life Committee's latest recommendation is based on logistics and not on attempts to push the material into the seventh-grade curriculum.

"Our main goal was to get it into the middle schools," Sebly said. "We achieved that."

As part of the board's approval, parents have the right to keep their children from taking the class. The curriculum will not include topics related to sexual orientation, contraception and abortion.

Still, Cindy Mumby, a parent of two children in eighth and fifth grades, has concerns about the proposal that the material be taught a grade earlier.

If the sex education curriculum is taught in a science class, "I'm concerned that this will replace the core science curriculum, which we need more of, not less," said Mumby, who also serves as a legislative chairwoman of the Ring Factory Elementary School PTA and the Bel Air Middle School PTA.

Besides, "middle school by definition is an age and time of contrast," she said. "Some children are very mature and exposed to quite a lot. Some children are not mature and not ready to hear some of these topics."

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