Texas, battling teenage pregnancy, is rewriting standards for sex education

JR Chester got pregnant the summer before her final year of high school. A smart student with good grades, she gave birth, graduated, and got pregnant again when she got to college that fall.

She was a teenage mom – like her mother and grandmother and grandmother. Her school did not teach sexual health education, and contraception was a foreign concept. Her children are now in their teens.

“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any,” said Chester, now a program director at Healthy Futures of Texas, a nonprofit advocating for sexual health and education. “Everyone was pregnant. And I just felt: When that happens, it happens.”

While teen pregnancies have declined in the state and across the country in recent decades, Texas continues to struggle. One of the highest birth rates for teenage girls At 22.4 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19 — the lowest, in Massachusetts, is 6.1. Along with Alabama, Texas has The nation has the highest rate of repeat teenage pregnancies. This fall, school districts across Texas are experiencing a transformation into what teachers call “refrainThe ‘Plus’ curriculum – the first time the country has revised sexual health education standards in more than 20 years.

Although districts may choose their own curricula and teach more than the state requires, state minimum health standards now go beyond the focus on abstinence to stop pregnancy and include teaching middle school students about contraception and Give additional information About preventing sexually transmitted diseases, such as human papilloma virus (human papillomavirus), which has been linked to many types of cancer.

Previously, a 2017 report showed that 58% of Texas school districts offer sexual health education “by abstinence only,” while only 17% offer curricula beyond that. A quarter of the schools did not provide any sexual education.

Research has shown Sex education programs that teach about contraception are effective in increasing contraceptive use and even delaying sexual activity among young people. On the other hand, educational programs focused on chastity have not been shown to be particularly effective in curbing sexual activity among adolescents.

However, whether teens in Texas receive any sexual education at all depends on whether or not their parents have registered with them. Whereas parents previously had to “opt out” of sex education classes in their children’s health classes, they now have to “choose” for their children to receive these lessons. This means that parents must sign the permission slip and return it – a change that some children fear could result in losing children not so much because of parental objections but because of missing forms and language barriers.

These changes in sex education come as the state ramps up abortion following a June Supreme Court decision to repeal Raw vs. Wade, which guarantees the constitutional right to abortion. Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The question of how schools teach young people about their sexual health and development is becoming a new pressing now that many state governments have enacted abortion bans.

Health advocates say that many women may have no choice but to carry on with their pregnancy to term, and this has created a new class of haves and have-nots: those who have the knowledge, resources, and agency to protect themselves against pregnancy, and those who don’t.

Texas is large and diverse enough to need education policies that can be adapted to remote border towns and sprawling metropolitan areas—both of which have high rates of unintended teenage pregnancies.

In 2019, the Texas Board of Education began rewriting the health education standards that had been in place since the 1990s. stayed in place Standards It states that “there are risks associated with sexual activity and that abstaining from sexual activity is the only 100% effective way to avoid the risks.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, require sex education classes to provide information about abstinence, 29 of which require “confirmation.” Only 20 states and the metropolitan area require chapters to provide information about contraception.

Under Texas law, sex education must present abstinence as the “preferred option.” When schools study about condoms and other forms of contraception, they must provide what Texas calls “reality rates of human use”—or, as described in the medical literature, “typical use”—that detail the effectiveness of these methods outside of laboratory settings.

The changes that will take effect this year primarily address whether and when a Texas student learns about certain sexual health topics. Under pre-state standards, Texas schools can teach birth control methods that go beyond abstinence, but only in high school health classes, which are optional. Now, information about contraception, as well as more about sexually transmitted diseases, is taught in middle school health classes, and is in demand.

In May, Dallas Independent School District, One of the largest companies in the countryLesson materials are approved to meet new state requirements. But school officials here wanted to do more given the scope of the problem. Human rights advocates say Dallas County has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies in the country.

The district’s curriculum goes beyond state minimums and includes gender identity and additional information about contraception, as well as a contract with Healthy Futures of Texas to teach an elective after-school program for high school students.

Dustin Marshall, a member of the school district’s board of trustees, said the previous curriculum was “very scientific” and “very dry,” leaving out basic information about contraception, such as how to put on a condom.

“One of the primary ways to reduce teenage pregnancy and reduce the generational poverty caused by teenage pregnancy is through contraceptive education,” he said. “We don’t just assume that if you teach abstinence, every child will obey. That’s too little in my view.”

Some critics say the state’s standards, while improving, are inadequate when it comes to consent and LGBTQ+ issues, including gender identity. The state board requires that schools study healthy relationships and sets personal limits on sexual activity.

Under Texas law, parents have the ultimate say in not only whether their child receives sexual health education, but also what is covered in those lessons.

For nearly 30 years, school districts have been required to create and designate school health advisory councils, charged with reviewing and recommending health approaches, including sexual health. Most members must be parents and not district employees, so the content of sex education classes can vary widely by district.

Jane Bindo, senior director of policy and research at Healthy Futures of Texas, described a study she helped run asking parents and teens who they prefer to teach teens about sex. While parents and teens rated them differently, she said their choices were the same: schools, doctors, and parents. Health advocates point out that not all parents can or do educate their children about sex — and that many teens live in precarious situations such as foster care.

Biondo said that when they asked teens where they learn about sex, the best answers were “my friends and the internet.”

In fact, some fathers, especially teenage mothers themselves, may not know anything about birth control or how to access it. “Where are parents supposed to get knowledge from?” Chester said. “Because they came through the same school system that didn’t teach sex education, and suddenly they’re supposed to know what they’re teaching their kids.”

“We are trying to end the generational curse of being uneducated,” she said.

Kaiser Health News

This article was reprinted from khn.org Courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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