Sex education, cursive bills held up by S.C. Senate

S.C. Statehouse

COLUMBIA - A bill that would have required sex education teachers to offer medically accurate information in their instruction has been stalled by a Republican senator from Greenville who placed a procedural hold on the bill, likely killing an overhaul of the state's nearly 30-year-old sex education law for the year.

Similarly, a Democrat, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Ridgeland, is also blocking a bill that would have required teachers to instruct school children how to write in cursive. Pinckney voiced concerns that the cursive bill would add to teachers' already onerous list of required material.

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, said in an interview after a meeting of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday that the sex ed reform bill isn't needed because the state's current law works well.

The education committee voted in favor of the bill, 9-2. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, voted against it along with Fair. There are ways around Fair's procedural hold, but with few days left in the legislative session, senators said that it likely kills the issue for the year. The bill requires school districts to file reports with the state and parents detailing what they are teaching. As it stands, many districts don't fill out an annual, self-reported state survey on what they are teaching in their sex-ed curriculum.

Sponsors say the bill is needed to help prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as decrease abortions and high school dropout rates. Advocates for the Columbia-based New Morning Foundation, a nonprofit that works on health education and other issues, said two senators had caved to pressure from the far right on a bill that had been viewed as bi-partisan.

The bill narrowly passed the S.C. House recently.

"We know that we have the majority of support from both sides of the aisle," said Brandi Ellison, director of advocacy for the New Morning Foundation. "It's hard to believe somebody wouldn't support medical accuracy." She said the state needs to ensure that sex education is consistent and accurate across the state.

Efforts such as South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and better access to contraceptives have helped the teen pregnancy rate go down in South Carolina, advocates said.

Fair said that the dropping teen pregnancy rate is a sign that things are working under the current law. He also said that some teens who get pregnant may be married, inflating the statistics. Most schools, he said, teach traditional sex education and abstinence. "It's medically accurate now. The balance we have in place . seems to be working well for South Carolina," Fair said. He said he worries a new program could de-emphasize abstinence. "Why do we want to risk that?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.