Tuesday, April 23, 2013
An update to South Carolina’s sex education law co-sponsored by Summerville Rep. Jenny Horne is stalled in subcommittee.
The bill would make some adjustments to the 25-year-old law to ensure school districts use medically accurate information and to bring accountability to the process.
When South Carolina ranks third in the nation for chlamydia and gonorrhea cases, “some people are not getting the right information,” Horne said.
As a parent herself, the state’s dismal statistics scare her, she said. According to Tell Them, an organization advocating for sex education, more than half of all new sexually transmitted diseases are in 15-24 year olds, and South Carolina is 9th in the nation for new AIDS cases.
“I think that parents need to be aware of these health statistics,” Horne said. “It’s no longer just about getting pregnant. It’s about life and death.”
Yet opponents of the bill are spreading misinformation, she said – saying the schools will be teaching pornography and homosexuality.
“We’re not teaching about anything other than their bodies,” Horne said.
“We owe it to the children to give them knowledge of how their bodies work,” she said.
The bill specifies that sex education curricula must be “medically accurate and objective.”
It continues the current focus on abstinence, but adds more focus on contraception and disease prevention.
Whereas the current law says contraception information should be within the context of future family planning, the bill adds “pregnancy and disease prevention, including, but not limited to, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.”
The bill requires instructors to acquire a certificate in comprehensive health education and to have continuing education every other year, and it requires school districts to report on their compliance.
Cayci Banks, spokeswoman for the S.C. Campaign to End Teen Pregnancy, said the reporting requirements are important because right now “we don’t even know what all schools are doing.”
For any other subject, she said, teacher certification wouldn’t even be an issue. Right now the person who ends up with the sex education class could be a coach or “the last person to show up to the staff meeting.”
Kathy Peebles, who heads up Dorchester School District 2’s sex education program, said the district already complies with the changes proposed in the bill.
The district changed curricula last year because the previous program wasn’t a good fit, she said.
The district looked at 50 programs, she said. Its comprehensive health advisory committee, which consists of parents, students, community members, health care professionals, clergy and teachers, liked three programs and asked for the instructors’ opinions on them.
Despite media reports to the contrary, the district’s committee is active and meets at least annually, Peebles said.
The district now uses “Making a Difference!” and “Making Proud Choices!” at the middle school level and “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” at the high school level.
There’s no health education below the middle school level, despite the fact that puberty begins for girls around 10.5 years.
Peebles said the health committee has pushed for puberty education in the fifth grade, but some principals have resisted.
State law doesn’t require health education at the elementary school level.
Peebles said the proposed changes to the law are a good thing. It’s common sense to require instructors to be certified, she said, and districts are already required to report what they’re doing – there’s just no enforcement of the requirement.
High school students are required to take 750 minutes of health education, which equates to three weeks during their physical education class, which most students take their freshman year.
Boys and girls are separated, and Peebles said she helps at Summerville High School, which has only one female P.E. teacher, and also teaches the ROTC students.
Parents get a letter about two weeks ahead of time informing them of the class. A handful of parents will come into the office to review the materials – usually middle-school parents – and a few opt out of the program each year, Peebles said.
The high school program does discuss birth control, including condom usage, and incorporates a cartoon showing how to properly use a condom.
The programs spend a lot of time role-playing, Peebles said. The curricula include role-playing sessions with students practicing refusing sex or insisting on condoms.
It’s amazing to hear what students already know – and don’t know, Peebles said.
“They think they’re so knowledgeable, and they really aren’t,” she said.