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Senator wants sexual health education taught in public schools
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Senator wants sexual health education taught in public schools

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With an estimated 70 percent of U.S. women and 62 percent of men having initiated sex by age 18, a state lawmaker thinks Nebraska should require sexual health education in public schools.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm laid out his plan (LB619) Tuesday to the Legislature's Education Committee.

Now, sexual health instruction is left to individual school districts. And districts that choose to teach sexual health are not required to meet any standards, and there are no limitations on what can be taught, Haar said in introducing the measure.

"Currently, the Nebraska State Board of Education does not require our schools to teach our youth about HIV, sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy prevention," Haar said.

His bill would create guidelines, and schools would be able to select from a list of curricula available through the state Department of Education.

Parents would have the right to review curricula, and students would be excused from the instruction at the request of a parent or guardian.

Under the bill, students would be taught:

* How to avoid peer and social pressure to engage in sexual activity; recognizing and managing inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances.

* That it is wrong to take advantage of or exploit another person.

Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young people make informed and responsible decisions about reproductive and sexual health, supports the bill.

"Young people have the right to lead healthy lives, and it is society's responsibility to provide them with honest, age-appropriate and medically accurate comprehensive sexual health education to ensure their continued health and well-being," said Diana Rhodes, the group's state strategies manager.

Her group said evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs "show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase condom and contraceptive use. Importantly, the evidence shows youth who receive comprehensive sex education are not more likely to become sexually active, increase sexual activity or experience negative sexual health outcomes."

Among those opposing the bill was Maris Bentley of Omaha, a former public school teacher and counselor.

She said the bill would "promote gratuitous, recreational sex."

"We must teach our children the ideal of abstinence until marriage, because that is the best plan for human beings," Bentley said.

She also expressed concern over language in the bill that says the instruction and materials shall not promote bias based on race, ethnic or cultural background; sexual orientation or gender or gender identity; sexually active students; and students with disabilities.

"In other words, instruction and materials about so-called safe sex methods for heterosexuals must also include instruction and materials for homosexuals, or for that matter, any other individuals who identify themselves with any number of other sexual variations," Bentley said.

Beth Shoemaker of Omaha also opposed requiring sexual health education.

"I believe this is the role of the parents … not the state," she said. "Where will the curriculum come from? Will it come from Planned Parenthood?"

Haar is married to a former longtime director of Planned Parenthood in Lincoln.

Advocates for Youth says there is "ample research to prove that comprehensive sex education programs give young people the tools they need to protect themselves from negative sexual health outcomes, (and) there is little if any evidence to show that flawed, abstinence-only programs are effective -- even at achieving abstinence among teens."

A study of behavior by students in 48 such prevention programs by the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that:

* 40 percent delayed sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners or increased condom or contraceptive use.

* 30 percent reduced the frequency of sex, including a return to abstinence.

* 60 percent reduced unprotected sex.

Peggy Olson, health educator for Planned Parenthood, urged lawmakers to "ensure than our schools provide to our youth the most effective education on sexuality -- education our youth need and deserve."

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.

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