See No Evil, Teach No Evil

A Fort Bend County school district decrees that sex ed should start with abstinence and end with fidelity

But the superintendent of LCISD, Dr. Michael Zolkoski, thought the board decided to give teachers the option of teaching only abstinence and fidelity, based on what students and their parents want. "It's not a policy," he emphasized. "We had a bunch of people come in and look at a program ... that the board adopted. And it's an option." According to Zolkoski, LCISD teachers are still free to teach about AIDS and birth control.

Sally Yates, secretary of the school board, confirms that what happened last April has some board members, including herself, confused. "I was very surprised to find out [about] the memo that had been sent out," she recalled. "I am very much a believer that abstinence is your first line of defense [against AIDS and pregnancy], but I have real reservations when we have 12-year-old girls who have already had a baby.... I'm not sure it's enough.... It was never my intention to forbid the discussion of anything else." Yates said the board originally intended to change its position from the previously lax "it's okay, do whatever you want to do" stance to one that actively promoted abstinence before marriage. But Yates also believed that discussion about birth control would continue, only within the context of married couples' family planning.

According to the minutes of the April 6 meeting, the board voted that "all required health courses at the junior/senior high-school level are to be taught in a manner that advocates abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage." The board voted unanimously in favor of this position statement but, as Yates pointed out, "I don't see that we voted not to talk about contraception." Yates did add, however, that other school board members have told her they support Slocumb's interpretation of the statement.

How much the LCISD's community actually supports these conservative views also remains in question. Mecum knows of one health teacher in LCISD who, after reading the memo from the board, sent permission slips home with the students asking parents if their children could learn about birth control and AIDS. Out of 92 students, Mecum says, only two children did not have permission from their parents to participate in an inclusive sex-education program.

On the other hand, Tracey Whiting, who described himself as a concerned father, praised the school board for its sex-education policy. He advocated abstinence, arguing that since condoms can't protect against the spread of HIV 100 percent of the time, teaching that condoms ensure safe sex is "dangerous and irresponsible." Whiting worried that the school district might be sued for medical malpractice and listed alternative sources, such as the Fort Bend Family Health Center and Planned Parenthood, that could teach teenagers about birth control. "Our district should not be put at risk for facing lawsuits over medical malpractice," he said. "Our schools should be a source of moral leadership for our children, who tend to live up or down to our expectations." Whiting emphasized the importance of teaching children self-restraint and of giving them the tools they need to say "no" to sexual activity. Whiting also argued that teaching children about birth control only encourages them to have sex.

It seems that the battle between ideology and reality has just begun for the school board of LCISD. Yates has said she will work toward clarifying the board's position, but she hopes that ultimately parents will be given the choice of what their children will or will not learn in a sex-education class. And while Yates works on the inside, Mecum and WAC will continue to fight on the outside. "Our purpose is to draw attention to this matter," says Mecum, "and ... we're not going to stop until something is done.

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