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Published March 28, 2011, 03:52 PM

'Abstinence Only' Sex Ed in ND Schools Approved

Legislation outlining how sex education is taught in North Dakota was changed Monday to focus entirely on abstinence after supporters said students should be taught the benefits of avoiding sex before marriage.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Legislation outlining how sex education is taught in North Dakota was changed Monday to focus entirely on abstinence after supporters said students should be taught the benefits of avoiding sex before marriage.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, a major backer of abstinence-only education, said the intent is to prevent teachers from discussing contraception. But the bill does not mention birth control and teachers are not explicitly barred from discussing contraception.

"We can help to form the hearts and minds of our young people for righteousness," Sitte said shortly before the Senate approved the changes.

The legislation, when approved last week by the Senate Education Committee, directed public school health programs to provide "exposure of students to abstinence-based concepts." Critics said that language would allow a variety of other teachings, such as the importance of using condoms as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Abstinence advocates convinced senators to add an amendment during floor debate Monday that directs schools to focus only on teaching students ways to abstain from premarital sex. The legislation was then approved 39-8 in the Senate and sent to the House, where representatives will decide whether they agree with the modified bill.

Sen. Layton Freborg, R-Underwood, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, predicted that the changes would meet resistance from teachers and school boards.

"I think we can do better," Freborg said. "I am for abstinence, but I am strongly opposed to this amendment."

The new legislation would require that health courses "explain why abstinence from sexual activity until marriage provides safety from sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and other associated health issues." Teenagers also must be taught "how to reject sexual advances, including self-defense."

Any sex education course must also "explain the negative influences of the sex-saturated media that present teen sexual activity as an expected norm, with few risks or negative consequences," according to the legislation.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said the measure amounted to direct legislative management of school health instruction. Sen. Joan Heckman, D-New Rockford, said the changes approved by the Senate were never offered to the Education Committee for debate.

"I think that we're walking down a tight road here when we dictate to our schools exactly the content of the curriculum that they are supposed to address in these courses," Heckaman said. "As a former health and physical education teacher, I think that that should be left up to your local communities and your local school districts."

Sitte said the policy was appropriate for lawmakers.

"We must stand up for principle, and what's right," she said.

Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, agreed. He said health courses emphasize the consequences of tobacco and liquor consumption.

"When we talk about alcohol or tobacco, we don't tell our kids, 'You shouldn't smoke and you shouldn't drink before you are of a rightful age, but if you can't control that urge, here's the correct way to smoke or drink,'" Wanzek said. "I think it's a very important that we send a clear message to our children, what is the foolproof way to prevent these (sexually transmitted) diseases, and to prevent pregnancies."

The bill is HB1229.

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