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U.S. News

Maine: Proposed Cut Renews Sex Education Debate

January 6, 2009

Budget tightening has once again put sex education in the cross hairs in Portland Public Schools, where the program faced proposed cuts for eight consecutive years. To date, the efforts failed.

Gov. John Baldacci's November cuts to balance the state's budget included a $1.8 million reduction in aid to Portland, 12 percent of the school district's $14.9 million allocation this year, and 2 percent of its overall budget of $89.5 million. In response, Interim Superintendent Jeanne Whynot-Vickers has proposed administrative cuts, furlough days for teachers, and moving a dedicated sex education instructor into a vacant health teacher position at Lincoln Middle School.

Currently, Portland's middle school sex education teacher provides lessons district-wide to fourth- and fifth-graders. Under the proposed switch, other teachers already in place would pick up the less specialized parts of the sex education curriculum, leaving issues such as sexual abuse and harassment to social workers, Whynot-Vickers said. The move would save $45,000 in salary and support costs, she estimated.

"We're not losing the whole program," Whynot-Vickers said. "We're certainly not losing the majority of the content."

In 2006, Portland's School Committee surveyed elementary teachers about their comfort with possibly teaching sex education, said Amanda Rowe, the district's head nurse. The response then was negative, and Rowe doubted many teachers, lacking training and comfort, would follow through on delivering a curriculum about puberty and the reproductive system.

"I don't want someone talking to my fourth-grader [about sex] when they haven't had thorough training," said Sarah Thompson, a committee member. The committee made national headlines last year by allowing King Middle School students to access prescription contraceptives at the school's city-run clinic, she noted. Cutting sex education now might send the wrong message, she said.

The proposal is up for a vote on Jan. 21.

Back to other news for January 2009

Adapted from:
Portland Press Herald
01.02.09; Elbert Aull

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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