Texas, Battling Teen Pregnancy, Recasts Sex Education Standards


DALLAS — J.R. Chester bought pregnant the summer season earlier than her senior 12 months of highschool. A brilliant scholar with good grades, she gave start, graduated, and was pregnant once more when she arrived at school that fall.

She was a teen mother — like her mom, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. Her college didn’t train sexual well being schooling, and stopping being pregnant was a overseas idea. Her sons at the moment are youngsters.

“In case you don’t know your choices, you don’t have any,” stated Chester, now a program director for Wholesome Futures of Texas, a nonprofit sexual well being advocacy and schooling group. “Everybody was pregnant. And it simply felt like: When it occurs, it occurs.”

Whereas teen pregnancies have declined within the state and throughout the nation in current a long time, Texas continues to have one of the highest state rates of teens giving birth at 22.4 births per 1,000 women and girls ages 15-19 — the bottom, in Massachusetts, is 6.1. Together with Alabama, Texas has the nation’s highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies. This fall, college districts throughout Texas are marking a shift to what educators name an “abstinence-plus” curriculum — the primary time the state has revised its requirements for sexual well being schooling in additional than 20 years.

Though districts might select their very own curriculum and train greater than the state requires, the state’s minimal well being requirements now transcend specializing in abstinence to cease pregnancies and embrace educating center schoolers about contraceptives and giving additional information about stopping sexually transmitted infections, corresponding to the human papillomavirus (HPV) that has been linked to a number of cancers.

Beforehand, a 2017 report confirmed 58% of Texas college districts supplied “abstinence-only” sexual well being schooling, whereas solely 17% supplied curriculums that expanded past that. 1 / 4 of faculties supplied no intercourse ed.

Research shows that intercourse teaching programs that train about contraception are efficient at rising contraceptive use and even delaying sexual exercise amongst younger individuals. Abstinence-focused teaching programs, alternatively, haven’t been proven to be significantly efficient at curbing sexual exercise amongst teenagers.

Whether or not Texas teenagers obtain any intercourse ed in any respect, although, is dependent upon whether or not their dad and mom signal them up. Whereas dad and mom beforehand needed to “decide out” of intercourse ed parts of their youngsters’ well being courses, they now need to “decide in” for his or her youngsters to obtain these classes. Meaning dad and mom should signal and return a permission slip — a change some worry might result in youngsters lacking out not a lot as a result of parental objections however due to misplaced varieties and language obstacles.

These modifications in intercourse schooling come because the state ratchets down abortion entry following the Supreme Court docket determination in June overturning Roe v. Wade, which assured a constitutional proper to abortion. Texas has one of many nation’s most restrictive abortion legal guidelines. The query of how colleges educate younger individuals about their sexual well being and improvement has taken on new urgency now that many state governments have enacted abortion bans.

Well being advocates say many ladies might don’t have any selection however to hold a being pregnant to time period and that has created a brand new class of haves and have-nots: those that have the data, assets, and company to guard themselves from getting pregnant, and people who don’t.

Texas is large and various sufficient to want schooling insurance policies that may be tailored for distant border cities and sprawling metropolitan areas — each of which have excessive charges of unintended teen being pregnant.

In 2019, the Texas Board of Schooling started rewriting the well being schooling requirements that had been in place because the Nineties. It saved in place the standards stating “that there are dangers related to sexual exercise and that abstinence from sexual exercise is the one 100% efficient methodology to keep away from dangers.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive well being analysis group, 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, mandate that intercourse ed courses present details about abstinence, with 29 of them requiring that it should be “confused.” Simply 20 states and D.C. require that the courses present details about contraception.

Underneath Texas legislation, intercourse ed should nonetheless current abstinence as “the popular selection.” When colleges train about condoms and different types of contraception, they need to present what Texas calls “human use actuality charges” — or, as it’s described in medical literature, “typical use” — that element the effectiveness of these strategies outdoors laboratory settings.

The modifications taking impact this 12 months primarily handle if and when a Texas scholar learns about sure sexual well being topics. Underneath the state’s earlier requirements, Texas colleges might train about contraception strategies past abstinence, however solely in highschool well being courses, that are non-compulsory. Now, details about contraceptives, in addition to extra about STIs, is taught in center college well being courses, that are required.

In Might, the Dallas Impartial College District, one of the nation’s largest, authorized lesson supplies to satisfy the state’s new necessities. However college officers right here wished to do extra given the scope of the issue. Advocates say Dallas County has the best charge of repeat teen pregnancies within the nation.

The district curriculum goes past the state minimal and consists of gender id and additional details about contraceptives, in addition to a contract with Wholesome Futures of Texas to show an non-compulsory after-school program for highschool college students.

The earlier curriculum was “very scientific” and “very dry,” stated Dustin Marshall, a member of the varsity district’s board of trustees, and not noted primary details about contraceptives, like tips on how to placed on a condom.

“One of many main methods to cut back teen being pregnant and relieve generational poverty from teen being pregnant is to show contraception,” he stated. “To not simply assume that in the event you train abstinence, each child will obey. That’s somewhat too head-in-the-sand, from my perspective.”

Some critics say the state’s requirements, whereas an enchancment, are insufficient with regards to consent and LGBTQ+ points, together with gender id. The state board does require that colleges train about wholesome relationships and setting private boundaries for sexual exercise.

Underneath Texas legislation, dad and mom have the last word say over not solely whether or not their little one receives sexual well being schooling, but in addition what is roofed in these classes.

Pamphlets about sexually transmitted infections and stopping being pregnant are a part of the supplies accessible on the Dallas workplace of Wholesome Futures of Texas, a statewide nonprofit sexual well being advocacy and schooling group.(Emmarie Huetteman / KHN)

For almost 30 years, college districts have been required to create and appoint school health advisory councils, tasked with reviewing and recommending well being curriculums, together with on sexual well being. Most members should be dad and mom and never district staff, so the content material of intercourse ed courses can nonetheless differ extensively by district.

Jen Biundo, senior director of coverage and analysis at Wholesome Futures of Texas, described a research she helped conduct asking dad and mom and youngsters who they would favor to show teenagers about intercourse. Whereas dad and mom and youths ranked them otherwise, she stated their selections had been the identical: colleges, medical doctors, and oldsters. Well being advocates level out that not all dad and mom can or do educate their youngsters about intercourse — and that many teenagers reside in unstable conditions like foster care.

Biundo stated that once they requested teenagers the place they study intercourse, the highest solutions had been “my buddies and the web.”

Certainly, some dad and mom, particularly those that had been teen moms themselves, might not learn about contraception or tips on how to entry it. “The place are the dad and mom presupposed to get the data from?” Chester stated. “As a result of they got here by means of the identical college system that didn’t train intercourse ed, and impulsively they’re presupposed to know what to show their youngsters.”

“We are attempting to finish that generational curse of being uneducated,” she stated.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Well being Information), a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.


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