Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Diocese of Arlington has criticized newly approved sex-education materials in Fairfax County public schools, saying they ridicule abstinence and marriage.

The Fairfax County School Board on May 12 voted 10-1 to approve for 10th-graders two pamphlets — “Birth Control Facts” and “Abstinence 101.”

“We would reject both those resources,” said Gerri Laird, a coordinator of Education and Training with the diocese’s Office for Family Life. “How can you promote abstinence when you talk about sexuality without even talking about marriage?”

The three-page “Abstinence 101” pamphlet, produced by ETR Associates, provides reasons for teens to abstain from sex and discusses challenges they will face as a result.

It will be taught with “Birth Control Facts,” which includes information about morning-after pills, or emergency contraception.

School staffers chose the abstinence pamphlet to replace another resource that defined abstinence as “no sexual touching to everything except intercourse,” after upset parents voiced complaints.

The diocese is not satisfied, Mrs. Laird said. She and nine others testified against the pamphlets before the school board approved the materials.

“Contraception should be presented in the context of how it is an abuse of the human person, how it hurts teens, rather than as a backup to failed self-control,” she told the board.

“Abstinence is empowering. It prevents our teens from being used by others for sexual gratification and it protects their inherent dignity as persons by protecting their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.”

Mrs. Laird also said there is no information in the birth control pamphlets about how emergency contraception is an abortifacient, or causes an abortion, and does not discuss its health risks.

The Archdiocese of Washington last winter criticized a new sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County that introduced discussion of homosexuality, saying the course was “obviously not reflective of our values.”

A federal judge on May 5 issued a 10-day temporary restraining order, saying the course was biased. The course has been suspended by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast for review.

In Fairfax County, Stephen M. Hunt, an at-large school board member, cast the only vote against the pamphlets. He said the abstinence pamphlet is “very weak.”

“It depicted abstinence as something that is so hard that it’s too hard,” he said.

Mr. Hunt also said the birth control pamphlet does not contain enough information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Stuart D. Gibson, Hunter Mill District school board member who was not at the May 12 meeting, said he would have voted for the pamphlets.

“The entire board is committed to helping teenagers remain safe and abstinent until marriage, but also to giving them information that could save their lives,” he said.

Mr. Gibson said those who testified against the pamphlets were “part of an organized campaign” against the materials.

“My dad always told me that the truth is not always determined by a show of hands,” he said.

“It’s fairly easy in this day and age to get lots and lots of people to contact you. That doesn’t mean that because lots of people contact you that they’re right.”

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