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Rhode Island Schools to Quit Abstinence-only Sex Ed

by Brendan Coyne

Mar. 24, 2006 – In the latest victory for advocates of comprehensive sex education, the Rhode Island Department of Education last week said state-funded schools should cease participation in a federally funded abstinence-only curriculum.

Last Wednesday, the state Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Peter McWalters sent a letter to all school districts stating the program, run by Heritage Rhode Island, had been deemed inconsistent with the Rhode Island’s education standards. "This program should therefore not be offered as part of the public school health curriculum," he said.

McWalters’s decision came partially in response to a complaint filed with the Department of Education last fall by the Rhode Island arm of the American Civil Liberties Union (RI ACLU).

In a letter sent to McWalters, RI ACLU director Steven Brown said the Heritage program used false information about sexually transmitted diseases and conveyed negative stereotypes of homosexuals and women to students. Additionally, the ACLU charged, Heritage invaded student’s privacy by collecting information about sexual activity.

McWalters asked that all districts provide RIDE with any surveys administered to students in conjunction with sex ed., stating, "No surveys are permitted to be administered to Rhode Island public school students unless they are approved by [RIDE]."

In his letter to RIDE, Brown cited several examples of statements of questionable educational value from Heritage materials it obtained. Those materials, part of the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Manual, include an admonition from the organization that girls should wear modest clothing so as not to invite boys’ sexual attention.

According to information collected by comprehensive sex-ed advocates Sexuality Information and Education Center of the United States, Heritage Rhode Island is part of the South Carolina-based Heritage Community Services.

Heritage Community Services curriculum is used in several other states, including Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine and Florida, according to information on the organization’s website.

SIECUS found that Heritage has received well over a million dollars in federal funds for its programs since 2004. The Rhode Island arm operates with a three-year, $400,260 grant under the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Based Abstinence Education program.

In recent years, several studies have raised serious questions about the efficacy and accuracy of abstinence-only sex-ed. Responding to the rising tide of information, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California rejected hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal sex-education funds over requirements that they be used strictly for abstinence-only curricula, reported.

Two years ago, report by the US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform found that many such programs funded by the federal government presented false information. The findings were followed by several others showing that the programs achieve questionable results at best and may actually harm children, especially homosexual children who are often taught that their sexuality is wrong.

In August, the federal government pulled funds from a religious abstinence-only education program known as the "Ring Thing" after deciding that the group running the program was promoting Christianity.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Report originally appeared in the March 24, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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