Despite more than four hours of emotional protest by dozens of outraged parents, the Vista Unified School District’s Board of Trustees has decided to include information on contraceptives in seventh-grade home economics classes beginning in the fall.
While more than 200 disapproving parents and community members looked on, trustees voted 4-1 Wednesday night to add a segment on birth control methods and their side effects to the seventh-grade “family life” curriculum.
The course will discuss various forms of contraception and their effectiveness, emphasizing abstinence as the best and only 100% safe birth control method, and will address myths surrounding family planning. Instructors also will help students develop strategies for decision-making based on personal, family, religious and community values.
“There are no guarantees that this (expanded sex education) will work, and it certainly won’t cure the teen-age pregnancy problem,” said board President James Hagar. “But we have a responsibility to do something. And I simply do not believe that increasing the amount of information available to our young people can hurt.”
Parents, who composed the vast majority of the standing-room-only crowd in the board chambers, were infuriated by the board’s decision. Most said they believed seventh-graders are too young to be exposed to contraceptives and argued that when such exposure becomes appropriate, it should take place in the home.
“What the board is saying to the public is ‘we know better than you parents what is right for your children,’ ” said Geoff Baker, one of nearly 40 parents and clergymen who testified and urged the board not to add the information. “I could never agree with that, and I don’t think the board has a right to assume it.”
Trustee Marcia Viger, the lone board member to oppose the curriculum change, agreed, saying she believes the seventh grade is too early to broach the subject of birth control.
Counselors and teachers involved with the family life courses, however, maintain that information on contraception and human sexuality is important to help students cope with the pressures of adolescence and become responsible adults. They stressed that their goal is not to usurp the role of the family in helping children mature but to complement it.
“Our objective is to give students as much information as possible so that they will make responsible sexual decisions based on their own moral code,” said Jan Porter, who teaches the seventh-grade family life course. “There is no expectation that any of them are or should be sexually active. We just want to provide them with information so that if they need birth control, they will take responsibility and use it.”
Currently, the seventh-grade family life course covers the parts and functions of the male and female reproductive systems, information about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy and birth, among other topics. The subject of contraception is addressed in the 10th grade.
The move to introduce information about birth control in seventh grade got under way earlier this year when the Family Life Committee--a group of parents and teachers--unanimously recommended the change.
“Some teachers at the junior high school level were concerned about the sexual promiscuity of some of their students,” said trustee Lance Vollmer. “There was a feeling that it did not make sense to teach family life, family planning and the like without touching on the contraceptive issue.”
The movement gained steam in March, when a San Marcos school district counselor revealed that 150 San Marcos High School girls--or one in five--had been pregnant during the 1983-84 school year. Only nine of those pregnancies ended in childbirth; the balance were aborted or miscarried.
“That definitely added to the sense of alarm over the issue and the need for more education,” Hagar said.
(San Marcos is evaluating its sex education curriculum and may also introduce information about contraceptives to seventh-graders next year.)
But although the parents who testified at Wednesday’s meeting agree that promiscuity among youth is a problem, most said they do not believe an earlier dose of sex education is the proper solution. In fact, most appeared to endorse the theory that sex education encourages irresponsible sexual experimentation.
“By introducing this material to seventh-graders, we are tacitly saying that we expect they will have need of it,” Mary Chapman said.
Another parent, Janet Friend, argued that “By teaching them all this stuff . . . you are psychologically stripping away all the God-given modesty of these kids. So when they get into the heat of puppy love there will be nothing to talk about, and they’ll go right on past the stopping point.”
Pastor Rick Savage urged the board not to “present alternatives that are not in the best interest of our young people” but to instead “teach them that it is OK to stand morally pure . . . and that it is proper to live above the animal appetite.”
Savage’s words evoked hearty applause and a chorus of “Amens” from the crowd.
But despite the pressure of public opinion, the board was steadfast in its conviction that junior high school students are ready for lessons on birth control--and in need of them.
“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make, because we’re touching on an area that a lot of people believe the school has no right to meddle in,” Vollmer said. “But as I see it, our role is to teach responsibility and provide education. Hopefully, the parents will assist the kids with the moral decisions that go along with the use of contraceptives.”