Effort to rewrite SC’s 25-year-old sex ed law launched

jself@thestate.comApril 9, 2013 

What do you think? Take our survey at the bottom of the story

A bipartisan group of state representatives says it wants to strengthen the state’s 25-year-old law governing what children are taught about sex in public schools.

But critics worry the proposal would shift the focus of instruction from encouraging students to abstain from sex to explaining how to avoid pregnancy.

Supporters say the S.C. House bill would maintain an emphasis on abstinence education while giving the state more oversight over what school districts teach, requiring sex-education teachers to get training specific to reproductive health and pregnancy prevention, and requiring sex-education materials be medically accurate and based on research.

At a Tuesday news conference at the State House, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Pickens, said the state must do something to prevent teen pregnancies. Those pregnancies keep young people “from accomplishing what they could be accomplishing in life” and “sometimes (create) a generational dependency” on government that costs taxpayers.

S.C. taxpayers spend nearly $200 million a year as a result of teen pregnancies, according to the New Morning Foundation, a reproductive health-education advocacy group that supports the bill.

State Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester, said the bill also would address “the failure of some (school) districts to promote medically accurate information” when teaching sex education. Three out of every four S.C. districts do not comply fully with the state’s health-education law, according to a report earlier this year by the New Morning Foundation.

Parents still would be able to opt their children out of sex education instruction at school, just as they can do now, said Horne, the bill’s co-sponsor. Horne also said abstinence would continue to be emphasized under the proposed changes. But discussion of contraception would no longer be limited to “future family planning.” Instead, lessons would include preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The bill faces opposition, including from S.C. schools superintendent Mick Zais. “The bill weakens the state’s long-held position that abstinence-only education is the preferred method of health education,” said state Education Department spokesman Jay Ragley, adding Zais also does not support requiring teachers to get additional training at their own expense.

Current law defines the topics that should be discussed with students, specifically excluding sex outside of marriage and sexual activities not for reproductive purposes unless discussed in the context of disease. Skelton’s bill would eliminate language that bans those topics, and adds contraception, disease and pregnancy prevention as topics to be discussed in addition to abstinence.

Oran Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council, said he is concerned the bill may change the state’s approach to teaching sex ed from instruction based on values toward the “facts” of sexual activity, including how to prevent pregnancy and disease.

The bill “could turn us from an abstinence state to a condom state,” he said.

State Reps. James Smith, D-Richland, and Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, also are co-sponsors of the bill.

What do you think?

Reach Self at (803)771-8658

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service