By Ann Daramola

As the Bush Administration doles out more and more money for abstinence-only sexual education, the Kansas Board of Education turns its ear to a board of medical experts, teachers, parents and students to create new guidelines for sexual education in the 2007-2008 school year.

The new board voted to overhaul the decision of the previously elected board, which voted to enforce abstinence-only programs in Kansas schools.

“We had parents and students saying that they wanted a full education,” board member Sue Gamble said. “They said ‘We want to understand our bodies more.’ And we had editorials in the newspaper about it.”

Kansas has had an abstinence-based health program for the past 40 years. Individual schools offered information about STDs and other aspects of a well-rounded sexual education as they deemed necessary. There was always an emphasis on abstinence as the best way to avoid complications.

The abstinence-only decision came with the 2006-2007 board members’ decision to mandate statewide sexual education standards.

“These were model standards,” Gamble said. “You can’t mandate anything. None of this had a force of action on any of the districts. The [previous] board was coming in with a heavy hand and it seemed to the new majority that it would be very burdensome on the districts.”

In the past two years, detailed reports about the effects of abstinence-only education have changed several states’ approaches to teaching their young adults about sex. Massachusetts and Washington have made significant moves away from the federally funded abstinence-only programs by rejecting federal grants and prohibiting abstinence-only education.

One such report, published by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., was considered in the Kansas Board of Education’s decision to establish what Gamble called “model standards” for Kansas public schools.

The California Department of Education already uses similar reports to inform its comprehensive sexual health and HIV/AIDS instruction. The Department of Education’s website states that “abstinence-only education is not permitted in California public schools.”

Santa Cruz County carries out its teenage sexual education through a variety of programs in its teen centers and through several school-based curricula.

“We don’t have a set curriculum at the district level; we leave that to the individual schools,” said Ian Walker, administrative secretary for the Santa Cruz City Schools’ Curriculum and Assessment Department.

In Santa Cruz City, schools require students to receive family life education in the sixth grade, once in middle school and once in high school.

Teachers are free to approach these subjects in a variety of ways, including inviting members of the community, such as volunteers from the Santa Cruz AIDS project, to lead instruction.

“[Sexual education] is hopefully approached in a very open and honest manner,” said Maryanne Tong, Santa Cruz City’s director of the Student Services Department. “We require teachers to teach sexual identity and orientation, sexual responsibility including decision making, abstinence and it’s consequences, AIDS prevention, pregnancies, resources and birth control.”