There are, literally, more than 100,000 ways to write a story about sex education. Why so many? Because that’s how many students will enroll in DISD this year. And virtually every family approaches this delicate topic differently.

This month, we’re giving you the plain and simple facts about DISD’s sex education policy. No experts. No titillation. No conjecture. Just the facts.

For example, did you know that in the seventh grade, our children begin discussing condoms in school? Or that abortion and homosexuality aren’t part of DISD’s sex education curriculum?

Are these policies good or bad? Right or wrong?

You won’t find out from reading this story, because we didn’t call up a bunch of “experts” to tell you what to think.

These are our children and our neighborhood schools, so it’s up to us to make that decision.

We thought it would be interesting to find out the facts of sex education in our public schools.

We did, and here they are. Now, we’re giving you the same opportunity.

Phyllis Simpson, coordinator of comprehensive health education for the Dallas Independent School District, believes our schools have a responsibility to teach both sexual education and communicable disease prevention.

“We recognize that 64 percent of the students in grades 7-12 in the district are sexually active,” says Simpson, who holds a doctorate in health education.

“We have had a sexuality education curriculum in place for eight years, and we have had an HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum in place for five years.

“However,” she says, “it is important to stress that this curriculum is limited. In fifth grade, a teacher may have five days to two weeks to give information on sexually transmitted diseases and sexuality education out of a whole year.

“In the seventh grade, the teacher may have two weeks. In high school, out of one semester on health, we have three weeks to talk about sexually transmitted diseases and a two-week unit on sexual education.

“So we might have seven good weeks out of 12 years.”

The basis for DISD’s sexuality and communicable disease education, Simpson says, is:

• Abstinence-based at all times.
• Grounded in preparation. Every teacher of the units is required to have 24 hours of training taught by Simpson.
• Parent participation. Parents are encouraged to review materials, including videos shown in the classes. They can exclude their child from a sexuality education unit and are told by letter before units start. However, since the units on sexually transmitted diseases are mandatory, they may not opt out of those.
• No “how to” classes. Condoms are neither demonstrated nor provided, Simpson says. Information on disease prevention and protection from risk is stressed. Contraception is discussed only as an alternative for married couples. According to the curriculum, abortion is not discussed.

DISD teaches its sex education curriculum – called Human Growth, Development and Sexuality – in the fifth grade, seventh grade and in high school.

In fifth grade, pupils are taught how the body changes, the basics of menstrual cycle, the function of the endocrine system and introductory genetics. Fifth-graders also learn how to safeguard the privacy of their bodies, as well as ways to handle peer pressure.

One of the major objectives of the fifth-grade unit, according to the curriculum, is “to recognize that physically, boys and girls become capable of becoming parents at puberty, but socially, emotionally and intellectually, they are not ready to be parents.”

In the seventh grade, pupils learn the role of hormones in the onset of puberty, preventive health care, how to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, feelings common to boys and girls entering adolescence, consequences of teen parenthood, the responsibilities of having sex, how to avoid unplanned pregnancies, awareness of acquaintance rape and incest, and the right to say “no” to any sexual activity.

In middle-school physical education, students learn to identify parts of the reproductive system, identify statements about AIDS as true or false, and discuss dealing with peer pressure to become sexually involved.

Another middle-school lesson, available when teachers and local school administration think the standard lesson isn’t comprehensive enough, also is offered. It discusses factors involved in not having sexual intercourse and explains non-prescription contraception.

In high school, the human growth unit examines factual contraceptive information, discusses available contraceptives and their reliability, and examines reasons why young people choose to be sexually intimate yet do not use any form of contraception.

The course also looks at the body’s physiological response to sexual stimulation, compares the skills needed to be a married person with those necessary to be a parent, reviews the ways the AIDS virus is spread, and promotes greater awareness of the problems of acquaintance rape and incest.

“Students learn about sexual response and about how to stop that process,” Simpson says. “They learn about contraceptives, but only within the context of a marriage relationship.” Abstinence is always stressed, Simpson says. If a student already is sexually active, he or she learns it is OK to become abstinent again, and how abstinence will reduce the risks of pregnancy and AIDS.

Students who refuse to abstain are told how to take steps to protect themselves, and they are taught that condoms are a way to reduce risk but are not 100-percent effective. If students want to reduce the risks, they are shown how to keep themselves safe, Simpson says.

The high school human growth unit discusses dating as part of the maturation process, factors in marriage decisions, factors in family planning and parenting, and techniques to maintain reproductive health.

DISD has taught its AIDS education curriculum for five years, Simpson says. The program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control.

As part of this program:

• In grades K-3, good health habits are taught, including hygiene and protecting oneself from disease.
• In grade four, the communicable disease unit includes HIV and the specifics of how one can and cannot catch that virus.
• In grades five and six, more information about HIV is included.
• In grade seven, the facts and myths of HIV transmission are taught, says the curriculum guide, “without elaborating on the details of sexual contact. Teachers talk about reducing the risk of acquiring the disease by the use of a condom, but they do not elaborate on that.”
• In high school, more time is spent on the specifics of AIDS transmission and prevention. Also, factual AIDS information is introduced in the drug education unit in middle school and high school, Simpson says.

Administrators, teachers, parents and students serve on panels that review the AIDS education materials, Simpson says. The panels judge whether materials are factual, appropriate and not offensive in content.

The district has written and distributed booklets that tell parents what will be taught, and the booklets include activities that parents can do with their children at home to increase understanding of the material, Simpson said.

When the human growth sexuality curriculum was tested in 1980-81, Simpson says, it was extensively evaluated.

“Seventy-two percent of a random sample of parents thought the class helped parent-student communication,” district officials concluded then.

“Thirty percent of the students felt they talked more with their parents since taking the class. All parents felt the seminar helped explain the program, and students were very positive about the class helping them understand (the) concepts…”

If the DISD program changes, Simpson says, it would only be to present some of the high-school level human growth material earlier.

“Some administrators believe we should give (high school) material to fifth- and seventh-graders,” she says.

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