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Teen health organization protests NDSU decision to freeze federal sex ed grant

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- A national organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of teens "vigorously protests" the decision of North Dakota State University administrators to freeze a $1.2 million federal grant to offer a new voluntary sex education program.

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine issued a statement calling on the university to lift the suspension of the three-year grant, which was awarded to faculty members Brandy Randall and Molly Secor-Turner in September. The two were set to partner with Planned Parenthood to offer a voluntary sex education program to Fargo-area teens ages 15 to 19 with parental consent.

But NDSU officials froze the grant Jan. 14, citing a 1979 North Dakota law that forbids using government funding for "family planning" services. They said that law could apply to the partnership with Planned Parenthood.

State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's office is looking into the law and will issue a legal opinion if the statute is still on the books.

In the statement, the group's leaders said the suspension "raises issues of political interference" and also said the planned program would be an important tool to provide comprehensive sex education to at-risk teens. There were about 13,000 teen births in the state between 1991 and 2008, costing taxpayers about $300 million, according to the statement.

"SAHM believes that politics should not interfere with research and the rights of young people to receive age-appropriate and medically accurate health information through sex education," the statement reads. "We request that President (Dean) Bresciani immediately reverse his decision to suspend this important program and evaluation."

SAHM President John Santelli said Thursday that many members of the group of health professionals, which includes NDSU researcher Secor-Turner, were "pretty outraged" about the grant-freeze and wanted to speak out on the apparent "political reasons" behind the decision.

"It seemed a little crazy to us that the project would get suspended the way it did," he said.

Santelli said the organization wants the program to move forward and make sure North Dakota's teens have the best information to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases if they decide to become sexually active.

"There's a big need," he said.