By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service
LANSING- A House bill would soon require every school district to teach students more about sex education than just abstinence.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem Township, would mandate that public schools teach contraceptive techniques as a method of birth control.
“We’re not supplanting abstinence. We’re saying all curriculum that is medically appropriate needs to be taught in schools,” said Smith, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010.
The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. Lesia Liss, D- Warren; Fred Miller, D- Mount Clemens; and Marie Donigan, D- Royal Oak.
Currently, state law requires the teaching of abstinence, but makes it optional for schools to teach about contraception.
The bill states that instructors must “discuss the benefits of abstaining from sex until marriage and the benefits of protecting oneself if a pupil is sexually active, and provide the tools to make informed and responsible decisions.”
Smith said the timing of the bill has a lot to do with requests from high school students involved with health centers in their local school systems.
“When the students are telling you what you’re providing is inaccurate, I think it’s important for us to listen,” said Smith.
Michigan Right to Life is neutral but the Michigan Family Forum is not. The conservative-oriented group supports legislation concerning traditional family values.
Dan Jarvis, the organization’s research and policy director, said, “There are two primary things we oppose. One is a requirement that every school teach sex education, and the other requirement is that schools teach it from a comprehensive perspective rather than an abstinence-only perspective.”
The Michigan Association of School Boards says districts are ready for the bill’s proposed changes.
“Studies have shown that the abstinence-only education is not the best course of action,” said Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government relations at the association.
But Jarvis said, “We just think that the parents and school board members of each district should be able to decide what to teach. We’re for local choice,” said Jarvis.
However, the association argues the legislation promotes local decision-making.
“By giving locals the flexibility to teach other options, we have the potential to decrease teen pregnancy and incidents of infection in young adults,” said Spadafore.
The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, and is awaiting action by the full House.