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EDITORIAL: Sex ed in D.C.

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More than 14 percent of newly diagnosed AIDS cases in the District in 2006 were among young adults 20 to 29 years old. New infections for 13- to 19-year-olds accounted for 0.6 percent, a rate that is three-tenths higher than infection rates of those 60 and older. The data are included in the D.C. Health Department's 2007 HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Report. The report plays a role in how school and health officials devise policies for health education - or, more appropriately, sex education. Health and nutrition classes in the District aren't what they used to be. Arguably, sex ed is becoming part of the problem.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education released a new set of health education standards a year ago that was largely silent on curriculum but specific about what knowledge children should have mastered in each grade level. For instance, by second grade (ages 7-8) children should know the physical differences and similarities of girls and boys. By grade three (ages 8-9) they should know that people come in all shapes, sizes and colors "but are equally special, including those that are disabled."

In the fourth grade (ages 9-10), it becomes clear that school officials are not quite sure what to do. The standards lose focus on how much information to give adolescents about sexuality and in what manner it should be taught. Teachers are encouraged to tell the children to talk to their parents or "other trusted adults" as they are learning about the changes their bodies will undertake over the next three years. By fifth grade students will be learning about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and the behaviors that place them at risk. Teachers also will be discussing sexual identity with children. But this "education" could in and of itself be putting children at risk.

If new infection rates among teens is low, why encourage preadolescents how to engage in sex?

Trying to establish a rigid health education curriculum is something D.C. schools have been struggling with for years, chiefly because health ed has become sex ed and administrators exclude parental involvement every step of the way. For example, the school system's idea of incorporating sexual identity into the curriculum has become a benchmark for adolescents - and that, too, is problematic. Parental involvement is key in a child's academic life as it is regarding a child's health and welfare.

Health education in the early grades should focus on just that - health and nutrition.

The school system cannot leave the subject matter to the exclusive discretion of its teachers. What it ultimately should do is leave the rights, wrongs and tolerance teachings where they belongs - in the home.

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