SEATTLE – School children can learn more about sex from watching TV than from attending health classes in some Washington middle and high schools.
Washington schools are not required to teach sex ed. But in the districts where the topic does come up – between grades five and 12 – state law mandates students be taught about abstinence but teaching about birth control pills or other ways to prevent pregnancy is optional.
And that won’t be changing anytime soon. As in past years, legislators have been trying to change state law on sex ed – some want to add birth control to the curriculum and others would like to restrict the information offered to students – but none of the half-dozen bills proposed this year were expected to make it to the governor’s desk.
The Bellingham School District is a good example of how the current law works. Students are taught about condoms as part of the district’s AIDS education. But that’s the only mention of a birth control method other than abstinence, said Adrienne Nelson, the district’s director of curriculum.
Bellingham uses the state curriculum for sex education, after it passed an approval process with parents, medical professionals and other Bellingham community members.
Nelson didn’t seem enthusiastic about the idea of weaving something new into Bellingham’s version of the state sex ed curriculum, which she called excellent, or about the community meetings that would be required before the new information could be shared in the classroom.
In Seattle, where birth control is part of the sex ed curriculum, students at Ingraham High School couldn’t understand why adults wouldn’t want them to have all the information they need to make informed decisions about sex.
Julian Byrd, 14, said his parents don’t have the information or the right approach to encourage thoughtful behavior about sex.
His teacher, Tamara Brewer, said parents generally were not taught about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, and aren’t as comfortable talking about them as their media-infused children.
Phauy Chey, 14, agreed: “They don’t know how to approach us with it.” Her parents demand she abstain from sex but don’t tell her why.
Even Dekeira Wright, 15, who plans to wait until marriage to have sex, said her devoutly Christian parents couldn’t offer arguments like the photos she saw in Brewer’s class about the impact of sexually transmitted diseases.
“It makes me not even want to kiss anyone,” said Kat McCarthy, 15.