The Washington County Board of Education, acknowledging a serious countywide teen-pregnancy problem, has approved a sex-education text for students in the eighth grade and above.

However, the board declined to purchase some $90,000 in texts since they previously had not been budgeted."Sex Respect," which focuses on the prevention of teen pregnancy, is intended to be a supplemental resource in all of the county's junior and senior high school health classes.

Superintendent Steve Peterson said that although the district is encouraging use of the text, it will be at the teacher's discretion.

For that reason, some educators fear the result may be a hit-and-miss proposition for students.

Scott Hess, a health lifestyle specialist with the State Board of Education, said that since current state curriculum is ambiguous in what can be taught - and since overstepping bounds could result in a lawsuit - teachers are more likely not to take the risk.

Hess noted that about $250,000 of a $476,000 legislative allocation still is available for school districts that have implemented a course aimed at preventing teen pregnancy.

Eleven districts in the state have created such courses and requested state funding, he said.

Jim Hill of the Davis School District, where the "Sex Respect" program was piloted in six junior high schools, said it was successful because it facilitates a dialogue between student and parents.

He said that most parents believe sex education is not a subject that only should be taught in the home, and that they have responded well to the program. "If anyone would have told me that we'd be teaching sex education at school three years ago I'd said they were crazy," he said.

However, the intended sign of the program's success - a decrease in the number of teen pregnancies - won't be known for several years, he said.

In 1988, there were 74 teenage mothers in Washington County.

"Abstinence before marriage is the key," Hill said. "That's the only way for a sex-education program to be successful in our culture."

Effie Latschkowski, a volunteer with LDS Social Services' unwed mothers program, said she proposed the course to school officials because she is concerned about the welfare of youngsters.

"There is definitely a serious teen-pregnancy problem in southern Utah," Latschkowski said. "The course is not the answer to eliminating the problem, but it's a step in the right direction."

She believes teens are unaware of the social implications of teen pregnancy.

"There are not sufficient resources for society to continue to effectively deal with this problem," she said.