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State government offers new choices in sexual education

Petre Thomas

 

Teen pregnancies and STDs are two problems that constantly face the young population of Mississippi. 

Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate and ranks No. 1 in chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, according to statistics taken from the Mississippi State Department of Health.  The age group of 15-24 makes up 76 percent of all chlamydia cases and 70 percent of all gonorrhea cases in the state. The 15- to 24-year-old demographic is only 15 percent of Mississippi’s population.  

To combat these growing issues, the Mississippi State Legislature recently passed a bill requiring sex education to be taught in public schools. 

The bill, known as HB 999, states that all school districts must choose between teaching either an abstinence-plus or abstinence-only policy. 

The abstinence-only policy will teach abstinence as the best contraceptive form, putting emphasis on not having sex until marriage, while also discussing the consequences of teen sexual activity, such as pregnancies and STDs. The abstinence-plus policy allows the school districts implementing the policies to expand upon other safe-sex practices, all the while advocating abstinence as the best form of birth control and STD prevention. 

Oxford School District Superintendent Brian Harvey believes abstinence-only is the best policy, a policy that will be put into effect beginning in fall of 2012.

“I think it sends the right message of the consequences in both the short term and the long term,” Harvey said. “When talking about teenage pregnancy, you can’t get pregnant unless you have sex. 

“You can’t get STDs if you don’t have sex. You can’t have emotional damage if you don’t have sex. I think that is the message we need to be sending.” 

Junior journalism major Watson Burney disagrees with Harvey. 

“I just don’t think teaching abstinence-only is realistic in this day and age,” he said. “I think schools should spend more time educating kids on how to practice sex safely.” 

Principal Patrick Robinson of Lafayette High School said his school has not yet decided on a curriculum for next year. However, the school’s tenth grade health class currently teaches a curriculum that emphasizes an abstinence-only policy. 

“The sex-ed course was a carryover from last year,” he said. “We did not make a change. We plan on just taking it (one) year at a time and (going) from there.” 

The new policy will not go into effect until July 1, 2012, giving schools less than a year to develop the curriculum they will use. 

Brad Schultz, associate journalism professor, has a son who is a junior at Oxford High School and a daughter who is a freshman at the University of Mississippi. 

“As a faith-based person, I agree that abstinence should be used,” he said. 

“I am enough of a realist to know that it doesn’t necessarily work. I don’t have a problem with abstinence-plus if it keeps kids from getting pregnant. That is the bottom line.”

The State Department of Education has set up pilot programs all over the state that will teach either the abstinence-only or abstinence-plus policies in a trial course at some point during the year. The Oxford School District is one of the pilot programs. “Currently the pilot program is for seventh grade students,” Harvey said. “It’s an ‘opt in program,’ which means the parents have to say they want their child involved in that.”

The 15- to 18-day course will teach an abstinence-only policy, and the students will be separated by sex. The boys will be taught by a male P.E. teacher and the girls by a female P.E. teacher.

Senior English major Jordan Griesbeck thinks it’s better to not have one set policy.  

“I believe the law is right in not having an overarching doctrine,” he said. “The districts know their students and their shortcomings. I think in some communities it might work to teach abstinence-only and in others it would work better to teach abstinence-plus.”