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State spurns federal sex ed money
Objecting to abstinence mandates, Jersey forgoes $800,000
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
BY CAROL ANN CAMPBELL
The Corzine administration said "thanks, but no thanks" to federal abstinence education money yesterday, saying new rules will not let teachers talk about contraception. Teachers also must say sex within marriage is the "expected standard of human sexual activity."
A letter yesterday by state health and education officials to the federal government says the strings attached to the money contradict the state's own sex education and AIDS education programs.
The state has taken the money, about $800,000 each year, since 1997. But state officials said new federal rules give them far less flexibility in creating such programs than in past years.
"Some of the elements required are inconsistent and violate our own educational standards," said Health Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs.
New Jersey is the fourth state so far to reject the abstinence education money, after California, Pennsylvania and Maine.
Education Commissioner Lucille Davy also signed the letter, which was sent to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Levitt. The letter says the state will not apply for abstinence money for the 2006-2007 school year.
The state had distributed the money to nine community organizations, such as the Camden County chapter of the American Red Cross and Catholic Community Services, which serves Newark, Irvington and South Orange. The groups run programs, some in schools, for about 11,000 children age 10 through 14.
In the past, Jacobs said the state adhered to several, but not all, of the elements in the Title V federal abstinence education program. For instance, the state adhered to section C, which teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It supported section G, which teaches young people how to reject sexual advances, and section H, which teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.
But Jacobs said new guidelines require the organizations to follow all sections, including one that teaches that monogamous in marriage is the only expected standard and that sex outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.
"Monogamy is not a bad idea, but having the government of New Jersey dictate these things for families is not something we wish to do," Jacobs said. "It isn't the function of state government to create standards (for sexual activity)."
Also, the state's AIDS Prevention Act permits schools to discuss contraception.
The state's rejection of the money could have political implications two weeks before Election Day.
"The state's stand draws attention to the Bush administration's very conservative and traditional positions on sex education, which are probably deemed unrealistic at the least and inappropriate by many residents of New Jersey," said David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics.
Some health educators welcomed the move.
"I personally feel that withholding medically accurate information to young people only does damage in the long run," said Janet Lamonico, a health teacher at JP Stevens High School in Edison.
Danene Sorace, director of Answer, a Rutgers-based office that promotes comprehensive sex education, agreed.
"It is a small pot of money, but it is still significant as far as we're concerned because that $800,000 is going to programs that are really ill-conceived," she said.
Conservatives, however, said the state was foolish to forgo the money.
"We should take a step back and try a new approach," said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life.
"What we have now is not working, as reflected by the rates of abortions and high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases."
Carol Ann Campbell covers medicine. She may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-4148. John Mooney contributed to this report.
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