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Nevada county considers teaching that homosexuality is unacceptable in wake of failed sex ed bill

Updated Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 | 10:54 a.m.

Sex Education in Nevada

All but one school district in Nevada teaches contraception in its sex education curricula. Eureka County School District indicated to the state that it does not include contraception in its curriculum. Esmeralda County does not have a high school – it only teaches sex education in fourth to eighth grades.

Eight school districts – including Clark County – have an "opt-in" policy for sex education. Three district have an "opt-out" policy and four district have both, which means parents sign a permission slip indicating whether they want their child to participate or not.

All school districts in Nevada allow parents to review materials used in sex education classes, but not all district have a family life, or sex education advisory committee. Eleven districts reported having committees. Four districts have had them in the past, but currently do not.

In the wake of a failed bill that would have standardized sex education across Nevada, local school boards are revamping what they teach children about sex — including one board that is considering whether to teach that homosexuality is not an “acceptable lifestyle.”

The changes come in the aftermath of Assembly Bill 230, sponsored by David Bobzien, D-Reno, and women’s advocacy group Planned Parenthood. The so-called "sex ed" bill failed to pass, despite being one of the most hotly debated bills this legislative session.

Although the bill failed — a victim of politics, heated rhetoric and misperceptions — the intense discussions and public attention engendered by AB230 are prompting local school boards to revisit their sex education curricula.

"We're happy that (AB230) started discussions all over the state about sex education," said Elisa Cafferata, the president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, the lobbying and political arm of Planned Parenthood. "We believe the public — especially parents — should be involved and know what their schools are teaching in sex ed."

But what is emerging as individual counties contemplate the changes is a patchwork of different sex ed curriculums — exactly the problem the bill sought to prevent.

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Some school boards, such as Clark and Douglas counties, are looking at adding topics that haven't been taught before, such as sexting and human trafficking. The Douglas County School District, located just south of Carson City, has about 6,300 students, according to the Nevada Education Department.

In Lyon County, however, the local school board is contemplating measures that would strengthen a "traditional values" approach to sex education. Last week, board members received the first draft of its revised sex education curriculum, which included controversial concepts such as "second virginity” and teaching that homosexuality is not an "acceptable lifestyle." The Lyon County School District, located just east of Carson City, has about 8,200 students, according to the state education department.

The Clark County School Board is also expected to hold several public discussions on its sex education curriculum, which largely follows what AB230 would have required. As it stands, the Clark County School District's sex education curriculum doesn't include lessons on human trafficking, gender stereotypes, safe sex and the legal age of consent — all proposed requirements under AB230.

"We're not afraid to revisit this issue," said Clark County School Board member Patrice Tew, who is on the district's sex education advisory committee. "We want our kids to have the best information and bring parents into the equation. The health of our students is our primary focus."

Clark County School Board member Deanna Wright, the outgoing member on the district's sex education advisory committee, said she would like to see valley schools teach additional topics, such as helping students understand ways to prevent and treat cancer through breast and testicular exams and elective mastectomies.

The School Board may also consider lengthening the amount of time students are in sex education classes. Currently, the curriculum spans three weeks out of the school year, a period that Tew said is not enough.

The board may also review its policy allowing students to opt in to sex education classes — perhaps the most contentious proposal in AB230.

Currently, parents must sign a permission slip at the beginning of each school year to have their children opt in to sex education classes. AB230 would have required sex education classes for all students; parents would've been allowed to opt out.

During the legislative session, some parents took issue with the opt-out policy, arguing it usurps parental control.

While Tew said she has heard overwhelming parental input to keep the status quo, Wright said she would advocate that Clark County pursue an opt-out policy for sex education.

"Everything else we do is opt-out, from the yearbook to the school newsletter," Wright said. "I think we're losing a lot of kids. We need to really understand that the people who need it the most are being disserviced."

Wright pointed to a conversation she had with a local high school health teacher who had a pregnant student in her class. The student told the teacher that she thought she needed a prescription to purchase condoms, so she didn't use them with her boyfriend.

"I think about the families who don't have the opportunity to have those sit-down discussions with their children about sex, so that their friends and the TV are providing information," Wright said. "Sex ed needs to come from adults with good, accurate information."

•••

Up north, a different discussion is taking place about sex education.

Last week, Lyon County's sex education advisory committee presented the results of a yearlong look at their curriculum, which was prompted by a number of local high school students who argued they weren't receiving an adequate sex education.

Like Clark County, Lyon County's sex education curriculum is abstinence-based, which means it teaches students about contraception, but stresses that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Unlike Clark County, however, Lyon County strongly advocates that students remain abstinent before marriage. Lyon schools also teach the concept of "secondary virginity," which is the idea that "it's never too late to practice abstinence."

Planned Parenthood's Cafferata said she viewed Lyon County's revised curriculum as "problematic."

By teaching students to remain abstinent before marriage, Lyon schools are excluding homosexual students, because Nevada currently doesn't allow for gay marriage, Cafferata said.

Furthermore, Lyon's focus on abstinence is unrealistic, she said, because as much as 60 percent of Nevada students have sex before graduating high school.

Lyon County's revised curriculum also teaches that "homosexuality shall not be presented as an acceptable lifestyle" and warns students about pornography addiction, arguing that "sexual predators start with pornography."

"Our state policies should be promoting factual information in our education system instead of a philosophy based on religion," Cafferata said.

"(Lyon County's sex education curriculum) really emphasizes the need for statewide reforms and protections," added Michael Ginsburg, the Southern Nevada director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "It makes the sidelining of AB230 even more sad."

Lyon County School Board President John Stevens said several board members agreed with Cafferata's sentiments. The board had hoped to see a sex education curriculum that was "more comprehensive and fact-based," he said.

"What we received last week fell short of that," Stevens said, adding that the proposed curriculum changes contained "questionable language."

"It was a good crack at it, but it wasn't quite enough,” he said.

Wayne Workman, Lyon County School District's deputy superintendent who sits on the sex education advisory committee, acknowledged the curriculum needs work.

For example, he pointed to a "support of traditional values" amendment to the school board's policy, which states that "although homosexual behavior is not promoted, if a student initiates the discussion, the teacher will provide information of a factual nature only and avoid introducing the discussion of homosexual behavior, except as necessary to aid student understanding of transmitted diseases."

Workman said the board's proposed policy and its proposed curriculum were "contradictory," attributing it to a "clerical error." Over the next several months, the Lyon County School Board and its sex education advisory committee will continue working on the curriculum, he said.

Lyon County Schools Superintendent Keith Savage said these curriculum changes weren't prompted by AB230, but argued he is in favor of local school boards deciding what their schools teach.

"Our feeling is this is something of local control," he said.

Cafferata said she too supports local control of schools' sex education curricula, arguing that textbooks and curriculum should be chosen by local school boards.

However, like any other subject such as math or English, sex education should have statewide standards, Cafferata said. That's particularly important in a state that has the nation's fourth-highest teenage pregnancy rate, she said.

"What AB230 was trying to do was create a statewide benchmark of things we all agree young people should know," Cafferata said. "Teen pregnancy costs the state millions of dollars every year and exacts a huge cost in terms of the dropout rate. This is a fiscal and economic issue for the state."

CORRECTION: The story has been updated to correct the party affiliation of David Bobzien. | (August 2, 2013)

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