Texas, Battling Teen Pregnancy, Recasts Sex Education Standards

DALLAS — J.R. Chester obtained pregnant the summer season earlier than her senior 12 months of highschool. A vibrant pupil with good grades, she gave delivery, graduated, and was pregnant once more when she arrived in school that fall.

She was a teen mother — like her mom, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. Her faculty didn’t educate sexual well being training, and stopping being pregnant was a international idea. Her sons are actually youngsters.

“In case you don’t know your choices, you don’t have any,” mentioned Chester, now a program director for Wholesome Futures of Texas, a nonprofit sexual well being advocacy and training 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 many years, 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, faculty 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 training in additional than 20 years.

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

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

Research shows that intercourse education schemes that educate about contraception are efficient at rising contraceptive use and even delaying sexual exercise amongst younger individuals. Abstinence-focused education schemes, then again, haven’t been proven to be notably efficient at curbing sexual exercise amongst teenagers.

Whether or not Texas teenagers obtain any intercourse ed in any respect, although, is determined by whether or not their mother and father signal them up. Whereas mother and father beforehand needed to “decide out” of intercourse ed parts of their youngsters’ well being courses, they now must “decide in” for his or her kids to obtain these classes. Meaning mother and father should signal and return a permission slip — a change some worry may result in youngsters lacking out not a lot on account of parental objections however due to misplaced varieties and language boundaries.

These modifications in intercourse training come because the state ratchets down abortion entry following the Supreme Court docket resolution 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 faculties educate younger individuals about their sexual well being and growth has taken on new urgency now that many state governments have enacted abortion bans.

Well being advocates say many ladies could 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 information, assets, and company to guard themselves from getting pregnant, and people who don’t.

Texas is huge and various sufficient to want training 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 training requirements that had been in place because the Nineteen Nineties. It stored in place the standards stating “that there are dangers related to sexual exercise and that abstinence from sexual exercise is the one 100% efficient technique 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 “burdened.” 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 faculties educate 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 exterior laboratory settings.

The modifications taking impact this 12 months primarily handle if and when a Texas pupil learns about sure sexual well being topics. Underneath the state’s earlier requirements, Texas faculties may educate about contraception strategies past abstinence, however solely in highschool well being courses, that are optionally available. Now, details about contraceptives, in addition to extra about STIs, is taught in center faculty well being courses, that are required.

In Could, the Dallas Unbiased College District, one of the nation’s largest, accredited lesson supplies to fulfill the state’s new necessities. However faculty 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 contains gender identification and additional details about contraceptives, in addition to a contract with Wholesome Futures of Texas to show an optionally available after-school program for highschool college students.

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

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

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

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

A photo shows a wall filled with pamphlets.
Pamphlets about sexually transmitted infections and stopping being pregnant are a part of the supplies out there on the Dallas workplace of Wholesome Futures of Texas, a statewide nonprofit sexual well being advocacy and training group.(Emmarie Huetteman / KHN)

For almost 30 years, faculty 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 mother and father and never district staff, so the content material of intercourse ed courses can nonetheless fluctuate extensively by district.

Jen Biundo, senior director of coverage and analysis at Wholesome Futures of Texas, described a examine she helped conduct asking mother and father and youngsters who they would favor to show teenagers about intercourse. Whereas mother and father and teenagers ranked them in another way, she mentioned their decisions have been the identical: faculties, docs, and fogeys. Well being advocates level out that not all mother and father can or do educate their kids about intercourse — and that many teenagers dwell in unstable conditions like foster care.

Biundo mentioned that once they requested teenagers the place they study intercourse, the highest solutions have been “my mates and the web.”

Certainly, some mother and father, particularly those that have been teen moms themselves, could not learn about contraception or the best way to entry it. “The place are the mother and father presupposed to get the information from?” Chester mentioned. “As a result of they got here by means of the identical faculty system that didn’t educate intercourse ed, and swiftly they’re presupposed to know what to show their youngsters.”

“We try to finish that generational curse of being uneducated,” she mentioned.

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