COLUMBIA, SC —
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A bipartisan group of state representatives says it wants to strengthen the states 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 bills 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 states 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 bills 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 states 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. Skeltons 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 states 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.
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