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Texas, Battling Teen Pregnancy, Recasts Sex Education Standards

DALLAS — J.R. Chester received pregnant the summer season earlier than her senior yr of highschool. A vibrant scholar with good grades, she gave delivery, 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 educate sexual well being schooling, and stopping being pregnant was a overseas idea. Her sons at the moment are youngsters.

“Should 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 latest many years, Texas continues to have one of many highest state charges of teenagers giving delivery 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 fee 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 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 embody educating center schoolers about contraceptives and giving further details about stopping sexually transmitted infections, such because 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 colleges supplied no intercourse ed.

Analysis reveals that intercourse teaching programs that educate about contraception are efficient at growing contraceptive use and even delaying sexual exercise amongst younger individuals. Abstinence-focused teaching programs, however, 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 youngsters to obtain these classes. Which means mother and father should signal and return a permission slip — a change some worry may result in youngsters lacking out not a lot resulting from parental objections however due to misplaced types and language boundaries.

These adjustments in intercourse schooling 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 haven’t 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, sources, and company to guard themselves from getting pregnant, and people who don’t.

Texas is huge 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 for the reason that Nineteen Nineties. It saved in place the requirements 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.”

In line with 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 “harassed.” 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 have 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 adjustments taking impact this yr primarily deal with if and when a Texas scholar 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 non-compulsory. Now, details about contraceptives, in addition to extra about STIs, is taught in center college well being courses, that are required.

In Could, the Dallas Impartial College District, one of many nation’s largest, accredited lesson supplies to fulfill 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 fee of repeat teen pregnancies within the nation.

The district curriculum goes past the state minimal and contains gender id and further 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 college district’s board of trustees, and omitted fundamental details about contraceptives, like learn how 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 stated. “To not simply assume that when you educate abstinence, each child will obey. That’s a bit too head-in-the-sand, from my perspective.”

Some critics say the state’s requirements, whereas an enchancment, are insufficient relating to consent and LGBTQ+ points, together with gender id. 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 baby receives sexual well being schooling, but in addition what is roofed in these classes.

For almost 30 years, college districts have been required to create and appoint college well being 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 like to show teenagers about intercourse. Whereas mother and father and teenagers ranked them in another way, she stated their selections had been the identical: faculties, docs, and oldsters. Well being advocates level out that not all mother and father can or do educate their youngsters about intercourse — and that many teenagers dwell in unstable conditions like foster care.

Biundo stated that after they requested teenagers the place they find out about intercourse, the highest solutions had been “my associates and the web.”

Certainly, some mother and father, particularly those that had been teen moms themselves, could not find out about contraception or learn how to entry it. “The place are the mother and father imagined to get the information from?” Chester stated. “As a result of they got here by way of the identical college system that didn’t educate intercourse ed, and impulsively they’re imagined to know what to show their youngsters.”

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

KHN (Kaiser Well being Information) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is among 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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