Sexual health education could be required in schools

The Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 8 on a bill that would require each Nebraska school district to provide instruction in sexual health.

LB192, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, would require that the curriculum includes medically accurate information about:

  • the benefits of not engaging in sexual intercourse and responsible decision-making;
  • the negative effects of alcohol and drug use;
  • proper use of all contraceptive methods approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, including side effects, health benefits, effectiveness and safety;
  • sexually transmitted infections (STI), including how infections are transmitted and the effectiveness of all methods approved by the FDA for reducing the risk of contracting or transmitting STIs;
  • healthy relationships and social pressures related to sexual behavior;
  • the risks associated with STIs and pregnancy; and
  • communicating with parents, guardians and other trusted adults about sexuality; and
  • materials that are age appropriate and do not promote bias against students of any race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or cultural background, gender identity, disability or sexual activity level.

The bill would allow a student to be excused from any part of the instruction if a student’s parent or guardian provides a written request to the school.

Council said children are constantly being bombarded with sexual issues that promote unhealthy sexual activity. The consequences of this can be seen in Douglas County, she said, which has among the highest rates in the nation of incidents of STIs.

Most reported cases involve 15- to 19-year-olds, Council said.

“There may have been a time when sex education was too sensitive to discuss publicly,” Council said. “That time is not now.”

Valda Boyd Ford, a registered nurse from Omaha, testified in support of the bill, saying STIs are a statewide problem that parents want to address.

In 2004, Douglas County declared STIs an epidemic, she said, but parents are provided very little information about how to address the issue with their children.

“They cry out for help from knowledgeable people,” Boyd Ford said. “Everybody is waiting for someone else to do it.”

Jordan Delmundo, representing the Nebraska AIDS Project, also testified in support of the bill.

About one-third of individuals who tested positive for HIV through the Nebraska AIDS Project were between the ages of 13 and 24, Delmundo said. In 2009, 20 percent of new HIV cases occurred in 13-24 year olds, he said, which is more than double what it was in 2008.

It is important to prepare young people for sexual situations so they can make correct decisions for their health, Delmundo said.

Janine Brignola, a 28-year-old mother who is HIV positive and a proponent of the bill, said HIV was mentioned only once while she was in school.

“All of the things I thought about HIV were inaccurate and wrong,” she said.

“I know those actions are my actions, but had I been more informed, I would have learned I was not immune to being infected,” Brignola said. “It is my duty to do all I can so another young person does not find themselves in my situation.”

Sibyl Spahn, a Norfolk resident, testified in opposition to LB192.

Each community is different and has different needs, Spahn said. The comprehensive sex education outlined in the bill is not what most parents want taught to their children, she said. It is a mixed message that spends a little time on abstinence and a majority of the time on how to have safe sex, she added.

“We say no to drugs, but when it comes to sexual behavior, we get wobbly,” Spahn said.

Brian Hale, director of communications for the Nebraska Association of School Boards, also testified in opposition to the bill.

There is no denying that STIs affect all communities, he said, and the natural result is to turn to the schools. However, LB192 has the potential to put teachers and educators in the middle of controversial issues, Hale said.

“It is a community issue and community problem that schools must address,” he said. “But it needs to be a partnership.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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