State requires school officials to choose sex education curriculumPublished 12:15am Sunday, June 10, 2012
Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that surveys were posted on ConnectEd. ConnectEd is a telephone messaging system that was used to call parents to point them to the surveys, which were on the district’s website. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.
NATCHEZ — Eighty-nine babies in Adams County were born to teenage mothers in 2010, according to the most recent government statistics. That’s 22.6 percent of all babies born in 2010 in Adams County born to mothers aged 19 and younger.
The State of Mississippi made headlines on another nationwide study this year by topping the list of highest number of teenage pregnancies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 55 of every 1,000 babies born in the state had teenage mothers — the most of every state in the country, despite a slightly decreased rate of teenage pregnancies nationwide and in Mississippi.
Across the state, 15.5 percent of babies born in 2010 had teenage mothers. In Adams County, the percentage of teenage pregnancies hasn’t dipped below 16.3 percent, the statistic in 2001, in the last 10 years.
Additionally, in the last 10 years, the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies occurred most recently, in 2010.
“It’s a very controversial thing,” Natchez-Adams School Board President Wayne Barnett said of teaching sex education in public schools.
The board was recently forced to face the issue of student sexual activity under the direction of a new state law, House Bill 999, which requires all school districts to adopt a “sex-related education” policy by the end of this month.
The law, adopted in the 2011 legislative session, lets districts choose to adopt one of two policies titled “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-plus.”
The board will vote at its 4 p.m. meeting Thursday to either accept or reject the NASD administration’s recommendation to adopt an abstinence-only policy.
While health officials say abstinence is the only sure way to completely prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the law recognizes the “impracticality” of the policy’s application, as school board member and former Natchez High School teacher David Troutman put it.
According to a 2009 CDC study cited by the Mississippi Department of Education, approximately 60 percent of Mississippi students have had sexual intercourse, and nearly 25 percent have had four or more partners. Although 15- to 24-year-olds make up just 15 percent of Mississippi’s population, that age group represents 76 percent of chlamydia cases and 70 percent of gonorrhea cases, the department of education noted.
The difference between abstinence-only and abstinence-plus is that with former policy, the school district may teach some or all of the following curriculum to students of the appropriate age, and the latter policy makes the following criteria mandatory.
Abstinence-only, which remains the “state standard” policy, may include and abstinence-plus must include the following:
• Social, psychological and health gains associated with abstinence
• Harmful consequences of adolescent sex
• Skills to deal with unwanted sexual advances, including the role of alcohol and drug use
• Abstinence as the only way to avoid pregnancy and STDs
• Discussions of condom and contraceptive use, along with facts about risks and failure rates
• State laws related to sexual conduct
• Teaching that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the most healthy option for sex
Barnett recognized the problem of teenage sex but had problems with the notion that it is the public school district’s responsibility to instruct students on sex education and values.