Lexington Clipper-Herald (Neb.) (03.13.13)
Janine Brignola grew up in a rural area near Ord, Neb., and then graduated from high school in Lincoln, Neb. Brignola, who is HIV-positive, stated that none of the schools she attended ever warned students about the HIV virus. Classmates told her it was a “dirty disease” that could take her life, but she believed that only sexually promiscuous people, prostitutes, or junkies could become infected with HIV and that “Nebraska was not a place that it could happen.”
Brignola testified March 12 at the Nebraska Legislature on behalf of a bill that would require public schools to offer more complete education about sex and STDs. State Senator Ken Haar of Malcolm, Neb., introduced Legislative Bill 619, and stated that 2,300 Nebraskans age 19 and younger contracted STDs in 2011. He also pointed out that African-American and Hispanic teens’ birthrates in Nebraska are among the highest in the United States, and noted that the bill would address those problems. Currently, Nebraska requires general health education classes, but allows individual school districts to choose how they present the topic.
The Education Committee public hearing on the bill drew varying opinions, as those present debated whether parents or teachers were the best sex education sources and whether decisions such as these should be left to local school boards and not mandated by the state. Karen Bowling of the Nebraska Family Council and Nebraska Family First testified in opposition, stating “Nebraskans want local school boards to be in the driver’s seat.” She criticized the bill as undermining parental authority by dictating what their children should hear. Bill supporters urged lawmakers to use their power to ensure that students in all Nebraska schools are taught comprehensive sex education, stating that much of the information currently provided to teens is inaccurate.
The Omaha Public Schools district requires students to take human growth and development courses starting in eighth grade. Abstinence and contraception are both among the topics taught. Parents have the ability to opt their children out of the courses. This option would also be provided under LB 619. The Lincoln school district requires nine weeks of instruction on health in high schools, including two weeks on sex education. Janet Tucker, a recently retired Lincoln East High School health teacher, noted that in 39 years of teaching, she could count only a handful of parents who opted their children out of the class.
The committee took no action on LB 619, and it is doubtful that the full Legislature will debate the bill this year because no lawmaker chose it as a priority bill. However, the issue could be raised again if supporters take the idea to the State Board of Education, which sets policies for the state’s K-12 schools.