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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane schools approve updated sex-ed materials

With titles like “Deadly Desires” and “Sexual Pressure,” new sex-education videos students in Spokane Public Schools will be shown beginning next month are a bit different from those their parents watched.

In one scene, clothed teenagers are shown suggestively “booty dancing” on the dance floor, while a gyrating woman performing in a music video sings “Give it to me baby” in another. The scenes are intended to build credibility by recognizing that for years, teens have been force-fed daily doses of sex-heavy images they may feel pressured to emulate.

“It’s an important subject for the health and safety of youngsters,” said Scott Stowell, a district curriculum coordinator for science, health, and human growth and development.

The new batch of sex-ed videos and other materials, produced by a division of the Discovery Channel, were approved by the Spokane Public Schools board of directors last week.

Most districts update their sex-education lessons periodically. Central Valley School District, for example, will update its curriculum in about two years.

In Spokane Public Schools, the vote came after months of discussion among administrators and a board of citizens and students.

According to the minutes from citizen committee meetings, some materials raised concerns. For example, an American Social Health Association pamphlet on using a condom correctly was considered too graphic in its illustrations. Nevertheless, the pamphlet passed the committee and school board for use in ninth-grade health classes.

Keeping a district’s sex education materials current is a year-round job. There’s a fine line in finding suitable material for sex education in school. Materials can be perceived as too graphic or too juvenile. Plus, developing technologies in birth control and new research in sexually transmitted infections also require constant updating.

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors has approved a list of new materials for the district’s health and life skills classes. Whether or not it’s comfortable to discuss gonorrhea or scabies, those topics are part of the core curriculum for middle school and high schools.

The latest materials, including videos, articles and pamphlets, will cost the district as much as $2,000. “We don’t have a large budget for this program,” Stowell said.

The teaching tools cover a lot of ground. A video intended for eighth-grade life skills classes, “Deadly Desires,” explains sexually transmitted diseases and elements of sexual responsibility, and it does so with a young-voiced narrator, interviews with young people and dozens of fast shots of school dances, courtyard nuzzling and cautionary tales.

In the video, one woman contracts HIV from her husband. After his death, she discovers he’d engaged in clandestine homosexual liaisons. An 18-year-old talks about discovering his HIV by collapsing at home. The video also follows a girl as she gets a check for diseases, after she discovers her boyfriend cheated on her. Another video, “Sexual Pressure,” talks about the flood of sex-packed images on television and in movies and magazines. It mentions that most young people assume the majority of their peers are sexually active, when the latest studies say 55 percent of teens abstain from sex. The tape also explains the dangers of online sex chats, which essentially let lewd materials and strangers into the computer-user’s home.

“Parents have no idea what’s going on,” says one student on the video.

While the videos take a documentary approach, the pamphlets are mostly clinical and information-based.

A magazine called “Who Knew? The Abstinence Issue” was considered too juvenile by some for seventh-graders. The pages feature doctored photos that made students’ heads look humorously large. One page featured backward type that could best be read by holding it up to a mirror to read that people who improve their self-esteem tend to: “Chose to wait to have sex,” “stand up for themselves and respect others” and “get along better with friends.”

A cartoon cat says in print, “Sex can hurt you – physically and emotionally. You can protect yourself by choosing to wait.”

In July last year the school board rejected a list of committee-approved materials on gay and lesbian issues. Stowell said work is under way to find materials to fill gaps in the curriculum.

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