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Sex ed legislation may not change much

FARGO - The North Dakota Legislature's efforts to promote an abstinence-driven focus on sex education might not result in much change, at least in Fargo-area schools.

FARGO - The North Dakota Legislature's efforts to promote an abstinence-driven focus on sex education might not result in much change, at least in Fargo-area schools.

Sex education in Fargo and West Fargo already emphasizes abstinence, while generally avoiding lessons on forms of protection or contraception, school officials said.

The West Fargo School Board approved in February a revised sex ed policy. While it doesn't reference an "abstinence-only" approach, Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis said that has traditionally been the practice.

"Typical to this type of situation, though, kids will ask some questions, and at that point, teachers handle it very delicately and will often say: 'You should be talking to your parents about this,' " Dardis said.

Officials said they're hesitant to overstep and don't want to promote the use of contraceptives or premarital sex.


Contraceptives and other forms of protection tend to be referenced only on lessons about sexually transmitted diseases, they said.

"They won't teach the different contraceptives, but what they will say is there are contraceptive available," Dardis said. "It becomes a set of beliefs for individuals - sometimes a religious belief and sometimes a personal belief - on if they should be used."

Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rick Buresh said teachers will voluntarily stick to the prescribed curriculum to avoid potential problems.

"If you were to stray from that and go off on your own, you're going to get yourself into some difficulties," he said.

Minnesota doesn't have state standards for sex education. Instead, Moorhead Public Schools follow national performance standards as guidance tools for the health curriculum.

Lessons are "abstinence-based" but not strictly that, said Kay Peterson, the high school's health department chairperson.

In contrast to Fargo-area schools, Moorhead students will learn about different forms of contraception "you should use later in life when you're in a meaningful relationship," Peterson said.

"Our district wants us to teach about STDs and AIDS," Peterson said. "At their age, we're pushing why abstinence is the best policy. ... We talk about not just the chance of getting pregnant but the different diseases you can get that you'll have with you the rest of your life."


In North Dakota, lawmakers are addressing state standards for all districts. Last week, the state Senate passed an amended version of House Bill 1229, which seeks what some worry is an "abstinence-only" policy on sex education statewide.

Under the revised proposal, public schools would be required to follow four specific curriculum criteria, including lessons on:

  • Why abstinence is a healthy option, in terms avoiding pregnancy and/or STDs.
  • How drugs, alcohol and other factors can negatively influence "un­healthy sexual decision-making and lead to aggressive sexual behavior."

Buresh said the provision that concerns him is one that requires lessons in self-defense, in an effort to teach students how to reject sexual advances.
"I would want to hear more about what's intended there, because that would definitely be stepping beyond what we already do," he said. "The other components of this are very easily doable and already consistent with what we teach."

Early Thursday, the House Education Committee didn't sign off on the Senate's revisions to the bill because of remaining questions about the legislation's new intent.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, said she didn't understand what the amendments do and if they mean abstinence-only curriculum would be taught.

That wasn't the intent of the original House-approved bill, which also had local control, she said.

That version of the bill simply directed school districts to expose students to abstinence-based concepts by July 2012.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, a supporter of the bill, said the amendments were not for abstinence-only curriculum, but instead to make abstinence the primary objective.


House and Senate members will hash out their differences over the bill through a conference committee, which will likely meet next week.

Forum Communications Co. multimedia reporter Teri Finneman contributed to this report. Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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