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Published February 02, 2011, 12:00 AM

North Dakota Legislature: Measure would set statewide sex ed standard

BISMARCK - Whether the state or local schools should determine what students are told in sex education was at the heart of a debate Tuesday. North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill that would set a statewide standard for abstinence education.

BISMARCK - Whether the state or local schools should determine what students are told in sex education was at the heart of a debate Tuesday.

North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill that would set a statewide standard for abstinence education.

House Bill 1229 would require schools to ensure their health curriculum exposes students to abstinence-based concepts.

This includes telling students that abstinence is the expected standard, and sexual activity outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.

The bill says bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents and society. Students would also be told it is important to attain economic self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

The bill brought several people forward to testify for and against it.

Kay Kiefer, director of Make a Sound Choice in Fargo, said the bill would ensure key concepts are included with abstinence education and provide “much-needed consistency” across school districts.

The standards described in the bill have already been tested in the state and are shown to have a positive impact on student knowledge, attitudes and behavior, she said.

“As the caring adults overseeing the education of our youth, we want them to know that reserving sexual expression for marriage is the safest choice,” Kiefer said.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, expressed concerns about the bill’s wording, saying there were “some pretty harsh statements” to put into law.

She thinks some legislators may be “very offended” by the statement about bearing a child out of wedlock, if they have children or grandchildren who were.

Kelsch suggested deleting the “more philosophical or moral statements” in the bill that “we don’t typically put into law.”

Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, questioned the wording of “attain economic self-sufficiency,” saying that means different things to different people.

Rebecca Meidinger of Make A Sound Choice voiced her support for the legislation.

“Students often tell me that they didn’t realize that saving sex for marriage was ever an option or that anybody ever did that. It’s a new idea to them. Nobody else is giving them this message,” she said.

Education officials opposed the bill, however, and advocated for local control.

Bev Nielson of the North Dakota School Boards Association said they “rarely support the selling of prepackaged curriculum, which I think is going on here.”

“Policies related to sensitive issues only succeed when they’re developed at the local level,” she said. “And while there can be state standards that have to be met, the local community decides what is acceptable to them and what is not.”

Valerie Fischer of the state Department of Public Instruction also opposed the bill.

“Current laws and policies allow local districts to determine how these topics are taught based on local needs and community mores,” she said. “Because North Dakota is a local control state, it is important that the value of local control be upheld.”

The House Education Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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