Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 9, 2013

W.Va. House panel looks at expanding sex education

By Mannix Porterfield
For the Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — More than half of West Virginia’s school children acknowledged in a 2011 survey taking part in pre-marital intercourse, fueling a possible move to teach sex education at the grade school level.

While the survey analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 50.9 percent were involved in sexual behavior in last year’s survey, the number is down from 63.1 percent in 1993, a legislative panel learned Monday.

Another significant drop came in the percentage of those engaging in sex before age 13 — from a high of 12.2 in 1993 to 4.9 last year, Education Subcommittee A studying student wellness was told.

Doug Chapman, assistant director of the Office of Healthy Schools for the state Department of Education, pointed out that a survey is conducted online every two years.

In the most recent one, the survey entailed 39,642 students in the sixth and eighth grades, and at the high school level.

“We do have good data and bad data,” Chapman advised the committee.

The 1993 survey found that 22.4 percent had engaged in sex with at least four persons, and that figure plummeted to 4.9 percent a year ago.

But the percentage of those not using birth control was about the same — 79.5 percent in 1993, and 74.5 percent last year.

Ditto for the percentage of students not instructed about AIDS or HIV infection — 12.9 a decade ago, and 12.0 last year.

“We do need to have better health education,” Chapman said, emphasizing this is especially true at the elementary school level.

Chapman said the CDC is giving more attention to supportive policies and a greater family involvement.

Besides myriad partners at the state level, he said, “We also look at the regional staff.”

“We have many people on the regional level as you can see that are working toward reproductive health education,” Chapman said.

One panelist, Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, a retired middle school teacher in Beckley, said the issue before the Legislature is to compare what is being taught with what needs are demonstrated by the survey.

“From there, I guess they would work on the curriculum, if there would be a change in it,” she said.

The subcommittee is considering HCR 107  which would ask the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to perform a study on implementing sex education across the public system.

“They’re just asking for a study to be done,” she said. “We don’t even have the resolution yet.”

Sumner is undecided about sex education at the grade school level.

“It would depend on the depth of what you would start in the sixth grade,” the delegate said.

“I would have to take a good, close look at it to see the depth that they would discuss in curriculum.”

Sumner said schools would be better off teaching abstinence among students.

“Isn’t that always the best way to make sure you don’t get sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies?” she asked.

“Absolutely.”