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Johnson County Commission accepts abstinence part of sex education grant

By KATHLEEN POINTER
The Kansas City Star

After more than an hour of emotional public comment Thursday, the Johnson County Commission accepted a grant for abstinence-focused sex education but rejected funds for instruction on contraceptives.

The rejected part of the program, which would have included information about contraceptives for at-risk teenagers, had been allocated about $45,000 of the $500,000 three-year federal grant.

The abstinence-focused program for children ages 11 to 13 won approval in a 4-3 vote and will move forward this fall. The after-school classes will require parents’ permission and involve a simultaneous program for parents.

Commissioner Ed Peterson moved to accept the entire grant but was unable to get a second. Then Chairman Ed Eilert suggested excluding the program for at-risk teens.

Last year the commission rejected a $300,000 federal grant intended to reduce teen pregnancy because Planned Parenthood was the lead organization. This year the money is administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which targeted the three counties with the highest rates of teen pregnancy.

Johnson County Public Health director Lougene Marsh urged the commission to pass the Personal Responsibility Education Program in its entirety. She included information about rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease in her report.

“We know the consequences of teens being sexually active without the appropriate information,” she said.

In the last decade, the number of cases of chlamydia in the county jumped from 453 in 2000 to a high of 1,308 in 2009 and then dropped to 1,024 last year. About 25 percent of those cases were in young adults, Marsh added.

The gonorrhea and teen pregnancy rates have remained more constant, rising from 139 to 244 cases and 449 to 560 cases respectively. About 22 percent of gonorrhea cases were in young adults, according to county Health Department numbers.

Lisa Demaree of Olathe, who has worked professionally with at-risk youth, said after the vote, “That they couldn’t take the conservative blinders off to consider people they would like to forget exist is very frustrating.”

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said federal money financing comprehensive sex education, including a video showing how to put a condom on a cucumber, was inappropriate. Culp and a few others cited the federal government’s huge debt among the reasons for turning down the grant.

“We’re borrowing money from China to put condoms on cucumbers,” she said.

Republican state Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, who is a physician, argued that abstinence was not a reality and urged the grant’s passage.

“Why would we risk our children’s lives?” she said.

Eilert said the Health Department could possibly return to the commission with a request to use county reserves to fund the at-risk youth portion of the program, triggering another vote. If it weren’t funded by the federal grant, the curriculum would not be bound by the PREP requirements, including contraceptive education.

To reach Kathleen Pointer, call 816-234-4328 or send email to kpointer@kcstar.com.

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