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Pregnancy Prevention Program to Get Grant

Schools: State will release $606,000 because county department agreed to allow comprehensive sex education.

April 11, 1997|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County's top education agency will receive a major state grant to combat teen pregnancy, a state official said Thursday, despite its decision to drop Planned Parenthood from the program.

Anna Ramirez, a state health official who oversees community grants, said the decision to release $606,000 in previously frozen funds came in exchange for a promise by the county Department of Education to include comprehensive sex education in a program meant to help kids in alternative and correctional schools.

Last month, state and county education officials said the grant was on hold after the Orange County Board of Education voted to drop Planned Parenthood from the proposed effort, which was targeted to Anaheim and Garden Grove.

Instead of Planned Parenthood, county education staff had made arrangements to hire a Fullerton-based program, called Teen Awareness Inc., which emphasizes abstinence from sexual activity. That marked a significant reversal from a blueprint for the program initially approved by the state last year.

The contract for Planned Parenthood's portion of the grant was worth only $3,000. Other portions were to pay for a broad range of services including career guidance and mentoring.

Despite the small sum of money at stake, Planned Parenthood protested its removal, saying that county education officials had failed to take into account that many of the teenagers targeted by the program are already sexually active.

That protest prompted state officials to review the whole program, holding up funds well after the projected start date of Feb. 1.

In effect, Ramirez and county education officials said, Planned Parenthood will remain on the sidelines, but its curriculum covering birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and other teen sex issues will be delivered. County education staff will conduct those seminars.

"I'm ecstatic," said Sharon Nordheim, director of instructional services for the education department. "I'm delighted that the state worked with us to maintain the integrity of the program."

Meanwhile, officials said they will keep intact their arrangement with Teen Awareness Inc.

Jon Dunn, chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, said he will continue to press the Board of Education to be reinstated in the program. Dunn said he met in Sacramento last week with the director of the Department of Health Services, S. Kimberly Belshe, urging the state to intervene.

"Their attitude was that these kinds of disputes happen all the time in big contracts," Dunn said, "but that they didn't really have a role to play."

Dunn contended that Planned Parenthood was being excluded "purely for political reasons" because some county education trustees are opposed to abortion rights, which the organization supports.

More than 100 agencies statewide qualified last year for more than $50 million worth of grants under an initiative launched by Gov. Pete Wilson.

Ramirez said the first state funds will be released to the education agency in about three or four weeks.

Two county education staff members will replace Planned Parenthood, officials said: Sandy Landry, a county nurse who chairs the county health education programs; and Linda Kearns, who has been involved with drug and AIDS prevention programs since 1990.

"We will make sure we emphasize teen pregnancy prevention and contraceptives for young people who will choose to stay sexually active," Kearns said.

Times staff writer Tina Nguyen contributed to this report.

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