Sex Ed in nebraska schools continues to be a center of debate

How much should Nebraska students be relying on public schools to learn about "the birds and the bees?" (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)
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October 16, 2015 - 6:44am

The debate has continued in Nebraska for several years over what students should be learning about sex in public schools.

Being a teenager is full of a lot of unknowns. Sex can be one of them. Freshman at Kearney High School are just as likely to rely on a classroom to learn about the birds and the bees as they are about algebra. But that doesn't make them eager to talk about it. Just ask, Health and PE teacher, Lerrin Rowe.

"I mean, you and I were once teenagers. It’s kind of awkward stuff to talk about,” Rowe said.

Lerrin Rowe teaches sexual education at Kearney High School. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)

For Rowe, teaching her students sex education has had a lot to do with connecting the dots.

“I absolutely think that they hear a lot of things from their peers and also pop culture," Rowe said. "I try to balance it by just bringing in realistic information and informative information as well and making sure the stuff that I'm bringing into them is accurate.”

Rowe has often pulled from popular culture to demonstrate her points. Today, the third slide on her power-point references the popular film "Juno" as she talks about teen pregnancy.

What students are learning in Nebraska’s public schools about sex has been a point of contention for several years. Some have said it's too much, others have said it's not enough. That’s led to a heated debate over sexual education reform that took center stage last month in Lincoln 

State senator Adam Morfeld represents District 46 in Lancaster Country. He, along with several colleagues, commissioned LR 334. (Courtesy Photo)

The setting was a legislative committee hearing. The topic was LR 334, a study to examine the link between academic achievement and risky health behaviors. However, the small hearing room was quickly standing room only as dozens of people sought to speak out over what they saw as the first step in an attempt to mandate comprehensive sex education in all school districts, something Nebraska does not require. Nineteen other states do.

That brought out testimonials by supporters of comprehensive sex education like Hastings pediatrician Dr. Daniel Leonard. He said many of the young patients he sees come in knowing little-to-nothing about issues like sexually transmitted diseases, dating violence, and teen pregnancy.

“Questions that are so off-the-wall in inaccuracies," Leonard said, "Nine times out of ten, their cited source is they found it on the internet or their brother found it on the internet, what have you. Un-teaching someone or un-training someone to train them into a new truth is incredibly cumbersome. And to undo what has been done is an uphill battle."

But opposition to teaching students more about sex brought out equally staunch opponents. Most argued comprehensive sex education encourages teens to participate in sexual activity. 

“They include totally inappropriate and depraved information that should not be shared with children," Maris Bentley of Omaha said.  "Comprehensive sex education promotes gratuitous, recreational sex while only giving lip service to the idea of abstinence. What a mixed message this gives to our young people.” 

Senator Bill Kintner represents District 2 in Cass County. He adamantly opposes state-mandated comprehensive sex education. (Courtesy photo)

State senator Adam Morfeld represents District 46 in Lancaster County. He, along with several colleagues, commissioned the study.

“I want to start looking into ways that we can better educate our youth and also educate myself and some of my newer colleagues on peoples’ opinions about that,” Morfeld said. “I know that Nebraska ranks a bit higher than other states when it comes to S.T.D. rates and also unplanned pregnancy rates.”

Urban areas in Nebraska have struggled with sexually-transmitted diseases over the past decade, particularly Douglas County. Currently, Nebraska’s system allows individual school districts to determine their own sex ed curriculum. And there are some who would like to keep it that way. That includes Senator Bill Kintner of District 2 in Cass County.

“It may not be what someone in Lincoln wants but if someone in the Elmwood-Murdock school district wants to design it in a way that works for them why should someone in Lincoln care?" Kintner said.

Kintner adamantly opposes state-mandated comprehensive sex education.

“I don't think a one-size-fits-all designed by a bunch of liberals in Lincoln is right for our state," he said.  "I really think that each individual school district can design the appropriate curriculum for their students.”

Should Morfeld decide to introduce legislation in the next session requiring schools to utilize comprehensive sex education, he wouldn’t be the first. Several similar attempts have been made in recent years, unsuccessfully. He has said that’s something he has considered. He added he would  include an opt-out clause for parents who simply want to go a different route with educating their children about sex education.



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