- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just say no. Remember when Nancy Reagan deployed that simple, declarative statement in the war on drugs during the Reagan administration?

Well, while it did not produce the highest of possible marks, President Obama is right to redeploy it in the battles against teen pregnancy and school dropouts, and the war on syphilis, chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.

It’s a healing approach, even though it is viewed by many as contradictory to Mr. Obama’s newly evolved stance on same-sex marriage.

But really, folks. Please think about it for a minute.

The president did not endorse abstinence-only as a wholesale program.

What he did was prove his sex-education and women’s rights positions were also evolving, and he illustrated that by adding abstinence-only funding to comprehensive sex-education programs already in place.

Earlier in his presidency, Mr. Obama defunded abstinence-only programs, and places like the District of Columbia followed his lead.

Understand this as well: If there is no abstinence component, then the programs are not - I repeat, not - comprehensive but mere safe-sex approaches to educating youths and young adults about indulging in risky sexual behavior.

And that addressing such behavior, like it or not, should include arming youths and adults with the right to say “no.”

By no means is the evolution of Mr. Obama a panacea, since federal intervention rarely is.

Perhaps the president is looking for reinforcement as daughters Malia, who is 13, and Sasha, who turns 11 in a few weeks, inch closer to the ages when parental messages are often short-circuited by peer pressure and pleas like “But Dad, everybody’s … .”

Besides, Mr. Obama is probably keenly aware of the fact that when it comes to life-threatening choices of a sexual nature, the most effective prophylactic for both sexes is to “just say no” and let your actions back up those words.

Harry Thomas Jr. speaks

The results of the Ward 5 special election to replace Thomas have yet to be certified, but it looks as if Democrat Kenyan McDuffie will be seated on the D.C. Council before lawmakers cast their next vote on the fiscal 2013 budget, and that’s good timing for stakeholders, Thomas told me.

There’s much at stake in the ward, primarily economic-development projects, including Costco, Wal-Mart and small businesses, homeownership, new education opportunities such as a Hebrew-English immersion school and expanded middle-school facilities.

Those and other projects spell j-o-b-s and more m-o-n-e-y in the ward, where officials said the unemployment rate has dropped from 13.2 percent to 12.8 percent.

“Ward 5 selected an honest broker with no baggage who can move the ward forward,” said Thomas, who said Ward 5’s baton is in good hands for the upcoming budget-balancing act.

“He has a clean slate, and we moved in a good direction,” Thomas added. “The ward is in good hands.”

Thomas, who pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling public funds and filing false tax returns, learned last week that he is scheduled to report on June 20 to the federal prison camp in Montgomery, Ala., to serve his 38-month prison term.

Prosecutorial leverage

D.C. schools officials proved last week that what’s old can indeed be made new again.

Officials were astonished back in the 1990s, when our schools were a laughingstock, that parents in Maryland and other states showed no shame in sending their children to D.C. schools, which had a lousy reputation. The city tried to tackle the problem head-on with the Public School Enrollment Integrity Amendment Act of 2001, which passed unanimously.

But now comes word that both our charter schools and special-education placements are being invaded by nonresidents.

The numbers are not jarring, but D.C. taxpayers shouldn’t be covering the costs of suspected residency fraud for 276 students, including 126 in traditional schools, 118 in non-public schools and 32 in charter schools.

The good news is that state Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley has said her agency will turn over the suspected cases to the D.C. Office of the Attorney General for prosecution.

It’s easy to have a soft spot in such illegal cases, but this is an old problem clearly in need of a new approach.

Prosecute the lawbreakers before summer’s end and beef up oversight before the fall enrollment is under way.

Public schooling is not free.

Just ask the Ohio mom who was prosecuted for falsifying residency documents to send her daughters to an out-of-boundary school.

It’s obvious that she and other parents need broader options where they and their children actually reside.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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