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Abstinence-only curriculum not supported in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Believe in West Virginia, a Charleston-based Christian group, paid thousands of dollars to bring an abstinence-only public speaker to Kanawha County high schools this week, but the state Department of Education does not support an abstinence-only curriculum.

"The curriculum can be abstinence-based but not abstinence-only. Our standards require a medically accurate, comprehensive curriculum. That means you teach everything from abstinence to different forms of contraceptives," said Mary Weikle, health and physical education coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education.

Pam Stenzel, a Christian speaker who is known for her abrasive style of speaking to teens about "the consequences, both physical and emotional, of sex outside of marriage," only brought up contraceptives once in roughly 50 minutes at a George Washington High School assembly, which a student recorded and posted to YouTube.

"Teens say they've never had unprotected sex -- what in the heck does that mean? Condoms aren't safe. They never have been and they never will be," Stenzel told students. "The only safe sex is a safe partner who has never had sex, or if they have, it's been five years from the last time they've had sex. Once you've said yes, you've lost all guarantees."

In Stenzel's other YouTube videos, she says women who use birth control are "10 times more likely to contract a disease . . . or end up sterile or dead."

The majority of Stenzel's presentation at GW focused on sexually transmitted diseases, with an emphasis on the female students in the audience and how sex can harm their bodies.

"Infertility -- the inability to have children -- has risen over 500 percent among women in 10 years. The girls who graduated from GW in 2003, many of them are just now today finding out they will never have children because of the choice they made sitting where you're sitting now," she said. "We literally have hundreds of thousands of women entering their twenties going, 'I'd like to start my family. I'm married, finished college, finally found a good guy -- after all the messing around I did when I was a teenager -- and I want to be a mom.'

"They try but they can't get pregnant. The doctor says, 'My goodness sweetheart, you've got all this scarred tissue in your fallopian tubes and your ovaries . . . you had gonorrhea while you were at GW."

Since the assembly, many students have spoken out against Stenzel's speech, with one parent threatening to protest by handing out condoms at the school.

GW parent Cheri Callaghan posted to Facebook on Thursday saying that her husband, an attorney, is now representing students who have been threatened by the school administration for speaking out.

"Many students felt uncomfortable with [Stenzel's] outright condemnation of any and everyone who has ever had premarital sexual contact," said GW student Katelyn Campbell. "Stenzel's overall attitude was that any type of sex will guarantee the contraction of an STD or an unwanted pregnancy."

GW Principal George Aulenbacher and Kanawha County school board member Becky Jordon attended most of the assembly and said they did not feel Stenzel's comments were offensive.

"I didn't hear anything like that. Any time you talk about sex with any teen student, it can be uncomfortable," Aulenbacher said after hearing reports of student complaints. "The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her."

Jordon said several students left the assembly and "complained before it even started," and while she called Stenzel's presentation "rough," she said it was necessary.

"It was a message that needed to be heard. I'm a social worker -- I used to work in CPS," Jordon said. "I used to see people who didn't want their children and I worked at the health center. I've seen everything she talked about, with girls coming in with STDs.

"She does this for a living. She goes all over the country, and if she just stood there passively, she wouldn't be heard."

Believe in West Virginia is a faith-based organization dedicated to "improving the economic attitude and future of West Virginia through biblical guidance and dogged determination," according to the group's website.

While Stenzel is a Christian speaker, Aulenbacher said she knew not to talk about religion during the school's assembly.

In the audio recording, while talking about infidelity, Stenzel says, "One of my favorite pastors said every couple that comes to my church to get married, he asks, 'Are you having sex or living together?'

"If yes, you have both told each other by your behavior that you are perfectly comfortable having sex with someone you're not married to," she said. "Weddings don't fix that. You already decided it."

Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw said the incident has him thinking it's time to better monitor what speakers principals are bringing into their schools, regardless of whether they're sponsored by a private donor or not.

"Frankly, we don't have any say over it. It's been my policy to let principals run their schools," he said. "We give them the responsibilities and, if we do that, we should give them some of the authority. But apparently they're not as careful at screening these people.

"We've got to be careful. We don't know what we're getting -- there's so many nutcases out there anymore.

"I know other board members did not know she was coming, and it's something we need to talk about."

Weikle said that while the state provides the framework for what lessons to teach when it comes to sex education, it's up to the counties to decide how to follow through.

"There's a possibility that feeling uncomfortable about certain topics is why the curriculum is not as comprehensive as it's supposed to be, but we have no way of knowing [if] that's true or not," she said. "We don't monitor. Our role is to make sure we have the content and objectives. It's a local decision to decide the instructional strategy."

While students in West Virginia learn about growth and development as soon as kindergarten, reproductive-health and sex-ed classes don't start until fifth-grade and older.

"Many times, the big focus is on goal-setting and decision making -- that's your foundation because, from there, we deal with all the misbehaviors," Weikle said. "That's where you start."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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