Sex education debate: proposal would change rules for schools - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

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Sex education debate: proposal would change rules for schools

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

"The fact that our state requires sex education is a positive," said Forrest Alton. "At the same time, I think we have to acknowledge that the world young people are living in today versus the world they were growing up in 25 years ago is fundamentally different."

Alton is CEO of the SC Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy. He said sex education needs an updated approach when it's taught in classrooms and it should not focus solely on abstinence since statistics show 47% of high schoolers have had sex.

"Young people are constantly bombarded with messages about sex whether it's MTV or the Internet or music videos or whatever the case," said Alton. "So, we don't have a choice anymore whether or not young people are going to learn about sex, we do have a choice of who the instructor is."

A new state bill would require all health education teachers to be certified.

Representative James Smith, one of the co-sponsors, said the curriculum should be streamlined so every student gets accurate and realistic information.

"What we've found is we don't have accountability to make sure everyone is getting the same quality and same level of information," said Smith.

Teen pregnancy has declined by nearly 40% in South Carolina the last two decades.

The State Superintendent said that proves the current legislation is working. His spokesman said the new bill would encourage kids to have safe sex instead of saving sex for marriage.

"What this bill would say is, 'It's okay to have casual sex, one night stands outside of marriage and talk about all the std prevention you can have with that,'" said Jay Ragley with the SC Department of Education. "When you remove the context of marriage from the conversation of reproductive health, it weakens abstinence and encourages students not to engage in less risky behavior it actually encourages them to engage in more risky behavior."

 Smith said abstinence would still be part of the curriculum, but it would also have a focus on contraceptives and STD prevention, not necessarily within the context of marriage.

"We want abstinence taught, contraception taught," said Smith. "Information about sexually transmitted diseases so that our students and our young people are equipped to make the decision for themselves with medically accurate information."

"It's kind of like telling students 'We don't want you to smoke,'" said Ragley. "'But if you're going to smoke, this is the way you should do it.' That's just a bad policy."
     
Although teen pregnancy is on the decline, South Carolina has the 11th highest teen birth rate in the nation.

"Teen pregnancy is a very complex issue and so to think that any single message is going to be appropriate for every young person in South Carolina is a little misleading," said Alton.

Supporters say the curriculum and approach need to be updated to reflect a changing culture,    while opponents say the current law is working, so there's no need for change.

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