Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Checking Up on Health Education the Comprehensive Curriculum to Teach Duval County Students about Their Bodies Is Settling in the Classroom with Little Controversy

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Checking Up on Health Education the Comprehensive Curriculum to Teach Duval County Students about Their Bodies Is Settling in the Classroom with Little Controversy

Article excerpt

The subject matter of the day, date rape, was written on the

blackboard.

That morning 30 high school students would consider sexual

pressure, perceptions of behavior, choice of clothing, locker

room bravado and the effects of drinking alcohol.

The class, Personal, Social and Family Relationships, is

required for all 11th-graders and serves as the final

installment of comprehensive health education in Duval County.

It includes some of the most controversial lessons taught in

public schools: sexual harassment, divorce, domestic violence,

abortion, contraception.

In 1996, when the Duval County School Board adopted a

comprehensive curriculum to educate students about their bodies,

social pressures and relationships, years of hand-wringing came

to an end.

At the time, critics alternately labeled the curriculum ungodly

or overly meek. But a year after the changes took effect, little

criticism is heard.

Although school surveys have not been collected, informal

counts indicate few parents exercised their right last year to

remove their children from the reproductive health and

AIDS-related instruction, said Kathy Bowles, Jacksonville

schools' supervisor of health education.

The curriculum is abstinence-based, but it includes discussion

of the use of contraceptives, an element that was lacking in the

previous health education plan taught in Duval County.

The School Board scrapped the seventh-grade program,

"Teen-Aid," four years after Planned Parenthood of Northeast

Florida and seven Jacksonville families filed a lawsuit, in

which it was argued the curriculum provided incomplete or

inaccurate information to students.

Because it offers instruction at all grade levels and because

it provides students with information that they previously were

not shown, the curriculum is more effective, said Cheryl Seaton,

health teacher at Terry Parker High School and president of an

organization for health teachers.

"This is more comprehensive," she said. "It covers much more

than just the sexuality issues." It also provides for more

interaction with parents. Several exercises are completed by

students asking their parents questions.

The first evaluation of the new curriculum will come this

school year when students in five grades are tested to determine

their knowledge of health issues, Bowles said.

But the success of the new approach is not tied directly to

decreases in pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease rates. In

fact, that data is not tracked by the school system.

The data, compiled by several Jacksonville organizations, shows

reports of some sexually transmitted diseases among teens

dropped last year, the first year of the new curriculum. Others

rose.

Live births to mothers age 19 and younger increased in 1996,

from 1,697 to 1,756.

Gonorrhea increased in the fiscal year ending June 30, from 714

diagnosed cases to 795, while cases of early syphilis and

chlamydia among teenagers dropped slightly.

Most of the health education program began last year, but the

11th-grade course on relationships was initiated this year. It

is supposed to be offered at all high schools, but school system

officials have not yet determined whether budget cuts forced the

reassignment of health teachers.

At Terry Parker High School in Arlington, where some students

said they are accustomed to seeing pregnant classmates, the

course is handled with diplomacy. …

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