April 28, 2010, 3:02PM
The Pennsylvania House Education Committee voted 14-11 to send to the full House a bill that would require school districts to provide comprehensive sex education, but gives parents the opportunity to excuse their children from the instruction.
House Bill 1163, sponsored by Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Allegheny, would allow school boards to determine the curriculum and requires only that the material be age-appropriate and medically accurate. It would not allow school boards to teach only abstinence-only curriculum, she said.
The state requires districts to teach students about HIV and AIDS and how to avoid contracting them, but any other instruction on sexuality is at the district's discretion.
The legislation calls for the state Department of Education to provide state resources to guide local districts' sex education program.
Wagner said the mandated instruction is needed to help lower pregnancy rates and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. She said any costs districts incur as a result of this mandate could be offset by federal funding. Additionally, she noted it could reduce the state's health care delivery system costs, which cost taxpayers $389 million in 2004 for teen pregnancy alone
But opponents, including Democratic lawmakers, said the mandate is unnecessary because school districts can and often do provide sex education. Furthermore, they said, it is not the job of schools to provide this instruction, but rather that of family and church. Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Forest, said she believes providing sex instruction could result in encouraging young people to engage in sexual activity.
Comprehensive Sex Ed One Step Closer in PA
Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA
HARRISBURG, Penn. - Comprehensive sex education in Pennsylvania may be headed for a vote in the full House soon, for the first time ever. A House committee this week passed the Healthy Youth Act, which would require that schools give students age-appropriate information about pregnancy prevention and contraception, in addition to abstinence-only instruction.
Democratic Rep. Chelsa Wagner of Allegheny County (D-Dist. 22) is the bill's primary sponsor.
"A number of our students are sexually active. So we want to make sure that they are equipped with accurate information so they are able to make informed decisions."
Some who oppose sex education in public schools say it's a topic best addressed at home by parents. Others claim teaching anything except abstinence-only encourages children to become sexually active.
Wagner says the "birds and bees" chat with mom or dad might have eased past generations into sex, but it's not good enough any more - and many times, that talk doesn't happen at all.
"You can only imagine what it is like for a student who doesn't come from a supportive household, trying to figure out, 'What is right, what is wrong?'"
Wagner recognizes why sex education is an uncomfortable topic, but says kids are having sex at younger and younger ages and that's making for a crisis situation.
"We have, nationally, one in four teenage girls who are infected with an STD (sexually transmitted disease), and that number goes up to roughly one in two when we're talking about African-American girls. So, this is a major, major problem."
Wagner says the measure moves next to the desks of House leaders, who'll decide if it will come up for a full House vote.
More information is available from Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, 717-234-3024.
I have no idea if it will pass, but I'm impressed it's even made it this far, and it's nice to have something come out of PA that's not complete fail.