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Columbus--The Ohio Department of Education reversed course on November 9, announcing that they would apply for a $1.25 million grant from the federal government.
The money would be used to hire staff at the education department to promote “evidence-based HIV prevention,” a shift from the “abstinence-only until marriage” policies that ruled the state during the Taft administration.
“Abstinence-only” draws criticism on a number of grounds, not the least of which is its inherent homophobia: if students are supposed to abstain until they marry, and lesbian and gay people cannot marry their partners, the implicit message is that they must be celibate for life.
Such programs are also criticized because, if youth choose to disregard their educators’ urgings to abstinence, as many do, they have little knowledge of the proper use of condoms and other safer sex and birth control information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health earmarked money for each state. To receive the money, which is paid out over five years, states need only to apply.
However, if Ohio missed the November 21 deadline for applications, it would be unable to apply again until the next grant cycle in five years.
Seven years ago the state declined, leaving it and Utah as the only two states in the country not receiving the grants.
“The department made the decision to apply for the grant after speaking with the administration as well as the legislature,” education department spokesperson Karla Carruthers said. “So we have made the decision to apply, and we will do so before the deadline of November 21.”
At the end of October, the department said that it would not apply for the grant. Earl Pike, executive director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, spurred a mass e-mail and phone campaign to urge the state to change its decision.
Pike believed that the department may be gun-shy after the zeal with which the Taft administration pursued “abstinence-only,” a course the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland has already begun to reverse.
Within two weeks, the department and Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman received 2,000 emails, the vast majority of which were in favor of applying for the money.
“We are obviously thrilled with the decision by the Ohio Department of Education to apply for the money after all,” Pike said. “As a result of that decision, we know that ODE is now developing a planning process that would have 75 percent of Ohio school districts implementing evidence-based HIV prevention programs by 2013.”
“That’s a quantum leap forward. It’s a huge achievement for Ohio,” he opined.
The Taskforce and other AIDS service organizations across the state will have a place at the table, assisting the state in developing a curriculum.
“We also know that ODE plans to work collaboratively with other state agencies and community partners, so they’re really inviting the involvement of many of the key constituents in the process, which is great,” Pike concluded.
The issue intersects with a grant that the AIDS Taskforce received from the Ms. Foundation last week, for advocacy in reproductive health and justice emphasizing inclusiveness.
“We were one of seven organizations in the country funded to get one of these grants,” Pike said. “Our plan is to particularly work with the state board of education, but also with larger municipal school boards to advocate comprehensive sex education instead of ‘abstinence-only.’ ”
“The paradox is that the state school board is still recommending abstinence education,” he concluded.