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CDC Sex Education Grants on Ice in Ohio
Will the General Assembly's action set a national trend?
COLUMBUS, OH - On March 29th, the Ohio House Education Committee blocked the release of federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) "health" (sex) education grants by a vote of 10-6, rendering the controversial issue dead for the current legislative session. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) had sought the funds to support its "Coordinated School Health" and "AIDS education" programs.

Pro-family groups have been working to keep the money frozen, not only because the CDC-funded "Programs-that-Work" (PTW) are explicit, but because they do not meet the requirements of Ohio state law for use in public schools.

Ohio law (Sec. 3313.6011) requires that sex education materials "stress that students should abstain from sexual activity until after marriage," and defines "sexual activity" as "sexual conduct or sexual contact" (Sec. 2907.01).

Professional people, including a doctor, a lawyer, a former school teacher, and representatives from abstinence and Right-to-Life organizations, parents, and students testified publicly in opposition to the grants.

Ohio State Board of Education member Diana Fessler, author of a heavily-documented report exposing the PTW entitled Sex Instruction in the Classroom, Controversial disease and pregnancy prevention behavior modification programs, states: "Under the guise of 'disease and pregnancy prevention,' decency, morality, virtue, chastity, and self-control are being expunged from our culture and replaced with that which is obscene, vulgar and profane. The very activities that cause pre-marital pregnancy and spread disease are now being encouraged in the name of prevention."

She points out that "virtually all states are getting money from the CDC, mostly through state departments of education or health," and that the PTW are slated for dissemination to schools and communities throughout the United States.1

Parents and pro-family groups hope that Ohio's action in freezing the grants will be copied in other states but understand that, even if legislators refuse the federal dollars, the CDC could direct the funds through other channels, such as health departments or community-based organizations. Last August, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) applied directly to the CDC for a $2.6 million grant to implement the condom curriculum. If successful, this would circumvent the law that requires oversight of these programs.

Coordinated School Health

The concept of coordinated school health focuses on merging the home, school and community into a web of health-related evaluations, services and interventions. As Ohio pro-family leader Melanie Elsey explains: "Our State Planning Committee for Health Education in Ohio (SPCHEO) claims it is necessary to address the 'risky behaviors' of our children. Their proposed solution is to bring a 'behavioral change approach' - behavior modification - to the classroom. Using Marc Tucker's term, the SPCHEO asserts that, 'For a child, a world with strong assets is a seamless one at home, at school, and in the community.' "

'Programs-that-Work' (PTW)

Diana Fessler's report describes the Programs-that-Work in detail, along with the people and processes that brought them about. Three of these programs are Be Proud! Be Responsible!, Becoming A Responsible Teen, and Reducing the Risk. They are the direct result of a 1993 meeting in Mohican State Park in which 60 representatives of Ohio's state health and education agencies, businesses, communities and universities met for two days to develop "an action plan that would move forward [their] organizations' shared agenda." The goal was the institutionalization of "Comprehensive School Health Education in all Ohio schools by the year 2000." The word "comprehensive," notes Mrs. Fessler, is "a reference, in part, to disease and pregnancy prevention programs, i.e., programs that encourage youth to consistently use condoms and contraceptives, i.e., sex education."

Be Proud! Be Responsible! is intended for youth aged 13 through 18, and "provides necessary skills by letting participants handle condoms and practice working with condoms using their fingers as props."2

Role playing is an integral part of the curriculum in all Programs-that-Work. For example, girls may role play to convince boys to wear condoms, two girls may discuss AIDS concerns in a lesbian relationship, and a boy and girl may discuss "safer sex with multiple partners."3 The manual says, "no participant should be excused completely from practicing skills. To do so would run counter to the purpose of the group."4 Students are encouraged to examine various brands of condoms and spermicides and to brainstorm ways to "eroticize condom use with a partner." They are told: "Once you and a partner agree to use condoms, do something positive and fun. Go to the store together. Buy lots of different brands and colors. Plan a special day when you can experiment. Just talking about how you'll use all of those condoms can be a turn on."5

Students make verbal agreements to maintain confidentiality about the sessions. "Rules such as confidentiality are crucial to the success of the program."6

Be Proud! Be Responsible! was written by a Ph.D. specializing in Human Sexuality Education, two Princeton Professors of Psychology, and a certified sexuality educator who serves on the board of directors of the Sex Information Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), a private, special-interest organization.

Becoming a Responsible Teen (BART), is designed for incorporation into teen social activities and community support organizations, including Boys' and Girls' clubs, counseling centers and even church groups. Its authors say the "biggest challenge" is "helping adolescents acquire the skills and self-confidence that will allow them to carry out safer-sex practices consistently."7

Activities include spreading condoms on a table as a teacher tells students: "We are going to learn how to use condoms the right way . . . " The teacher discusses special features including "size, texture, color, flavor, packaging, and names," while trying to keep the "session light and maintain a sense of humor."8 Each student is given three or four unopened packages to hold as the teacher inflates a condom.

The prepared script suggests that teachers divide students into teams and practice condom application and removal steps, with or without a lubricant, using a penile model. Teammates are to act as personal trainers. "First, they are going to give you a round of applause and praise for what you did right. Then they're going to . . . make suggestions about what you could do differently to improve your condom skills."9

In Session #7 of the curriculum, each participant gets a quarter and a condom and is reminded to "Daydream safely. Even when you daydream about sex, you can imagine using a latex condom."10

Open use and acceptance of sex words not normally used in conversation makes BART different, proponents say, from other HIV and AIDS prevention classes. "[Using explicit language] is a way to create a sense of comfort and belonging within the group. The script goes on to say: "Most of us aren't used to using words like these in a group setting . . . If you feel uncomfortable at first, I hope that you'll bear with me for a while . . . we'll use the words that seem most accepted by the group." The teacher then asks participants to "share with the group different words that they have heard people use to talk about sex."11

As Diana Fessler observes: "In combination with teachers openly playing with condoms, required verbal fantasizing, etc., this common language serves only to further break down inhibitions to the lowest level."

On Feb. 4, 1998, BART was formally approved by the Ohio Department of Education's Materials Review Panel.

Reducing the Risk targets students in grades 9 and 10. While "Programs-that-Work" are described as "addressing abstinence and responsible health-enhancing behaviors," Reducing the Risk tells students that "there are many ways to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD). You could become a hermit . . . who never talks to anyone or does anything. Or, you could avoid pregnancy and STD by being so unpleasant that everyone stays clear of you. Or you could never become involved in a romantic relationship."

Students are encouraged to determine whether these are good ways to avoid pregnancy and STDs. The teacher then acknowledges that they are not, since many people want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, to be liked, to get along with people, or to have a family someday.12 13 After students hear the teacher equate abstinence with nerdiness and being disliked, most would probably conclude that sex with latex is the preferred choice.

Developers of Reducing the Risk cite a visit to a clinic as perhaps the most important single element in the entire curriculum.14 All students must complete a "Visit or Call a Clinic Assignment," preferably with a boyfriend or girlfriend.15 To prove that they made the visit, students fill out homework sheets with the route to the clinic, the cost of contraceptive and STD treatment, and reasons why they would recommend the clinic to friends.16

Program Review Panel

Who determines whether these controversial "Programs-that-Work" are appropriate? Federal regulations require applicants for comprehensive school health funding to have a Materials (or Program) Review Panel of no less than five people to review and approve or disapprove all applicable programs and materials prior to their distribution and use in any activities purchased, in any part, with CDC funds, i.e., federal funds.

"Every state has a such a panel," says Diana Fessler, "and members are supposed to be representative of 'a reasonable cross-section of the general population.' Members are not to be predominantly from the intended audience,17 yet this federal directive is clearly not being met, at least in Ohio. Concerned parents and citizens in every state need to find out who their panel members are."

She notes that in 1998, Ohio's Program Review Panel mandated the training of 80 professional "Trainers-of-Educators" in these curricula for classroom use. The goal is 1,600 individuals trained in implementing the curricula.18

Training people to teach comprehensive health education has been underway in Ohio since the fall of 1994. During an April 1998 PTW training session, those being trained made a list of 35 "street names" (slang and obscenities) for physical intimacy and 34 "street names" for various body parts which was supported by members of the Program Review Panel.19 By November 1998, so many concerns about PTW had surfaced that State Superintendent John Goff issued a letter saying: "Given the concerns that have been raised with regard to the content of the 'Programs-that-Work' training, I want the Department to temporarily cease offering training in this HIV/STD program."20 The temporary cessation, however, merely prompted proponents to look for new avenues. Proposed options "for appropriately delivering HIV/STD and Pregnancy Prevention training" included shifting the responsibility to the Department of Health, or subcontracting the training to a university or some other entity. The ODE effectively shifted the responsibility for PTW training to the ODH last August.

A CDC contract states that ". . . schools turn . . . to non-classroom educators . . . as their 'teachers' of students. School nurses, professionals from local, city and county departments of health, and representatives from the Urban League, American Red Cross, and Planned Parenthood are the most common self-selecting population to be trained by ODE."21

'Youth Risk Behavior Survey'

The shared agenda of the participants at the previously-mentioned 1993 meeting at Mohican State Park required that children be taught "the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that will enable them to lead healthy and productive lives." In order to successfully introduce "sufficient scheduled programming to elicit behavior change," the need for such change had to be established.

This is accomplished by the "Youth Risk Behavior Survey," a biannual nosy questionnaire that asks students, among other things, if they have ever had sexual relations, how old they were the first time, how many people they have had intercourse with, and whether or not they use condoms. According to Mrs. Fessler, the answers given by 2,800 students surveyed in 1993 provide the baseline to demonstrate need for Comprehensive School Health Education.22 However, ODE records show that the Director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services conceded in a 1996 memo that the "Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a terrible survey . . . Ohio only uses it because we have to in order to get money from Atlanta [CDC]."

A major concern is how the survey was conducted. Asks Mrs. Fessler: "What is the margin for error? Without knowing how it was conducted, a researcher cannot know if statistical biases were accounted for or eliminated. For instance, will some children, boys in particular, lie when it comes to their relating 'exploits'? Who were the 2,000 students, and from what social demographic? Since the list of schools and districts is confidential, we don't know the answers to these questions."

The survey was taken by approximately 2,200 students in 1997 and was repeated in 1999. Participation was purported to be "voluntary" and "confidential." Parents are invited by letter to give "passive permission" for their children to participate. Ohio bureaucrats asserted that, "if the U.S. Department of Education paid for it [the survey], we would be required to have active parental permission/objection forms, but since these are U.S. Department of Health [CDC] monies, a passive permission/objection form is sufficient."23 "Passive permission" does not equal "informed parental consent."

The Future of Sex Ed

Diana Fessler and many others agree that, instead of protecting children from disease and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, "Programs-that-Work" titillate the libido and teach children casual and dangerous attitudes about sexuality.

"Envision, if you can," she adds, "a generation convinced that using a condom not only removes danger, but also marks one as being proud and responsible. Instead of teaching our students to debase themselves by profaning that which is wholesome and pure within the context of marriage, we need to truly raise the standards of America's students. We can do this by making a concentrated effort to protect our children."

  1. Jemmott, Loretta Sweet, et al., Be Proud! Be Responsible!: Strategies to Empower Youth to Reduce Their Risk for HIV Infection. Fifth ed. Curriculum Manual (New York, NY: Select Media, Inc., 1996). 
  2. Jemmott, p. 8. 
  3. Jemmott, p. 119-123. 
  4. Jemmott, p.136. 
  5. Jemmott, p. 77. 
  6. Jemmott, p. 26. 
  7. St. Lawrence, Janet S., Ph.D., Becoming A Responsible Teen: An HIV Risk Reduction Program for Adolescents (Santa Cruz, CA: ETR Associates, 1998). p.1 & 2. 
  8. St. Lawrence, p. 113-115.  
  9. St. Lawrence, p. 119. 
  10. St. Lawrence, p. 181. 
  11. St. Lawrence, p. 21 & 22. 
  12. Barth, Richard P., Reducing the Risk: Building Skills to Prevent Pregnancy STD & HIV, Third ed., (Santa Cruz, CA: ETA Associates, 1996). p. 40 & 41. 
  13. Barth, p. 2. 
  14. Barth, p. 9. 
  15. Barth, p. 125. 
  16. Barth, Richard P., Student Workbook Third ed., (Santa Cruz, CA: ETA Associates, 1996). p. 33-34. 
  17. Centers for Disease Control Assurance of Compliance Document as revised June 15, 1992. 57 Federal Register 26743. 
  18. Combined Grant Application for Federal Assistance for State Comprehensive School Health (August 1,1998). p. 1. [Budget period 12/1/98-11/3/99]. 
  19. Programs That Work! Training For Trainers. Booster & Focus Group November Roster. (Draft November 24, 1998). 
  20. Goff, John, Letter to Dr. Nancy Eberhart. Subject: HIV/STD & Prevention Training. (Columbus: Ohio Department of Education, November 6, 1998). 
  21. Grant Application for Federal Assistance for State Comprehensive School Health (September 10, 1997). p. 6.  
  22. 1993 Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Ohio Departments of Education, Health and Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services, Columbus, OH, 1995), p. 7. 
  23. Program Review Panel Minutes (Ohio Dept. of Education, January 27, 1999), p. 2.

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