|School board approves 'abstinence-only' sex ed|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Wednesday, 18 May 2011 13:12|
Just don’t do it.
That’s the essential message of a new program designed to teach high school students in Baker County, which has a higher teen pregnancy rate than the statewide average, to abstain from sex before marriage.
The abstinence-only curriculum was approved unanimously by the School Board on May 16 with virtually no discussion, following a postponement of the measure two weeks earlier to give staff more time to ensure that it did not include any instruction on contraception.
Baker was one of two dozen counties in Florida to receive a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund the program in cooperation with the Baker County Health Department, which will administer the grant and provide a facilitator for the classes.
The only comments came from board member Patricia Weeks, who thanked Marcheta Crews, the school district’s health services specialist, for working closely with the health department on the agreement.
“I feel very confident that this will be a good program for our students,” said Mrs. Weeks, a former school teacher. “I believe it will make a positive impact on our ninth and tenth grade students.”
The class will only be offered to ninth graders in 2011-12, but Mrs. Weeks said she hopes that the program will be expanded to include tenth graders in the future.
The agreement follows recent criticism about the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education programs from teens in Baker County and from members of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition’s Teen Pregnancy Task Force.
They contend that youths want more comprehensive sex education and that a different approach to sex education may help lower the county’s comparatively high rates of teen pregnancy and repeat teen pregnancy.
School district and health department officials, however, say their hands are tied by Florida Statutes, which mandate abstinence-only sex education in public schools.
At the school board meeting on May 2, Superintendent Sherrie Raulerson said the curriculum could be abstinence-only or abstinence-based, which would include limited information about birth control. By postponing the measure, she said she wanted to “make it clear that we want it to be abstinence-only.”
Developed by the Wyman Teen Outreach Program (TOP), 35 lesson plans focus on such things as the benefits and values achieved through self-confidence, assertiveness, communication skills, performing community service and setting and achieving goals.
Mrs. Crews said that while the abstinence-only approach focuses on the benefits of postponing sexual activity, including the physical and emotional consequences, an abstinence-based curriculum emphasizes abstinence as “the primary option, but also includes information on contraception.”
A similar abstinence-only program has been conducted for years by the health department in seventh and eighth grades, and Mrs. Crews said the district has been very pleased because the instructors “know our value system and have never overstepped their boundaries.”
According to the agreement the curriculum, titled Youth Development Through Service and Learning, has been proven to reduce teen pregnancies by 53 percent, school course failure by 60 percent and school suspensions by 52 percent.
Baker County’s teen birth rate fell about 11 percent in recent years from a three-year average of 76.6 births per 1,000 teens (age 15-19) in 2004-06 to 68.2 births per 1,000 teens in 2007-09, according to health department data.
But the teen birth rate here remains much higher than the statewide rate, which also fell during the same three-year periods from 42.4 births per 1,000 teens (age 15-19) in 2004-06 to 40.4 births per 1,000 teens in 2007-09.
In other business, the school board:
• Approved an agreement with the Charlton County Board of Education in Georgia to allow students there to attend schools in Baker County that are closer to their homes than schools in Charlton County.
Officials said about 50 Charlton County students each year attend schools in Baker County. Their parents must provide transportation and pay a $50 application fee, which covers the cost of checking into each child’s student history.
Applications may be denied for any children who have been troublemakers in their home schools or who have had “chronic absentee problems,” Superintendent Raulerson said.
• Approved a new medical insurance plan for school district employees with United Healthcare as the provider. Fraser Hospital and the Baker County Health Department do not have contracts with United, which could cause employees to be inconvenienced by having to travel to Jacksonville for many health procedures, officials said.
Mrs. Weeks praised the insurance committee for working out new contracts for medical, life, hospitalization and vision insurance for employees. Now, she said, the district needs to work on “getting the hospital and the health department to get on board.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, 19 May 2011 10:18|