At issue is the comprehensiveness of the sex education offered in Wisconsin schools. State Sen. John Lehman is knee deep in the battle, as a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 324, a companion bill to Assembly Bill 458, the Healthy Youth Act. The Assembly version made it out of the Committee on Education this week by an 8-5 vote and now passes to a full Assembly floor vote.
The Senate bill will be the subject of a hearing Thursday at 9:30 a.m. by the Senate Committee on Education, which is chaired by Lehman.
What's the big deal, you ask? Just this: Under state law today, a school may teach abstinence only and be in compliance with sex education statutes.
Yes, we know, abstinence is effective at preventing pregnancy -- 100% effective.. But, as our teen pregnancy rates prove, teens aren't abstaining.
The issue is particularly relevant to Racine, which has the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in Wisconsin and a teen birth rate almost double the national average (along with Green Bay and Kenosha). Here are the startling numbers (click map to enlarge):
42.5/1,000: U.S. teen birth rateSexually transmitted disease are another issue. Chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S., according to the CDC, and females 15 to 19 had the highest chlamydia rate -- 3,005 per 100,000 population in 2007. In Wisconsin, the rate among the general population is 371 cases per 100,000 people; among Racine County teenagers it's 2,782 per 100,000
32.4/1,000: Wisconsin teen birth rate
49/1,000: Racine County teen birth rate
94.3/1,000: City of Racine teen birth rate in 2007
The Healthy Youth Act bills:
- Require that school boards that decide to teach sex ed do so in a medically accurate, age appropriate way, addressing elements proven to reduce sexually transmitted infections and unintended teen pregnancies, including providing information about abstinence and contraceptives.
- Require that school districts that opt to not teach sex ed send a notice home to parents.
- Require that the state apply for federal funds allocated for teen pregnancy prevention programs.
- Delete a state law forbidding volunteer health care providers from providing sex ed instruction in areas concerning human sexuality and contraception.
- Support the current ability of parents to opt children out of sex ed curriculum.
In other words, if this becomes law, then sex education in our schools will have to include such matters as contraception, and even medically accurate names for body parts. According to a DPI survey, only 61% of state school districts are teaching some form of a comprehensive program. Racine Unified is one of them. (Details added below.)
"The part many are hung up on," says Amanda Harrington of Planned Parentlhood Advocates of Wisconsin, " is that in addition to teaching about abstinence, you have to have a discussion about birth control"
Wisconsin Right to Life opposes the bill. "Wisconsin Right to Life strongly believes that we must speak out in one voice to protect the health of our youth, to reduce the number of pregnancies among our youth and to reduce the number of abortions obtained by our youth by advocating programs that focus on abstinence from sexual activity," their memo to legislators says. "It is the healthiest course for our youth to take and is the only way to insure that sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and abortion will not result.
"Unfortunately, AB458 would require that students be taught about a number of activities that could endanger their health and could result in a growing number of teen sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies and abortions."
From Unified: In response to our questions about what sex education information is taught when at Unified, we received the following from the middle and high school curriculum summaries (which we've minimally edited):
GRADE 6 Health and Safety: General health units include Decision Making, Family Life, Child Abuse, Personal Growth and Drug Education.
GRADE 7 Physical Education and Health: Health units focus on mental, physical and social health including: Decision making, family life and AIDS, drug education, nutrition and mental health. There are approximately 10-12 lessons at each grade level.
GRADE 8 Physical Education and Health: The Health units assist adolescents in acquiring decision-making skills, enhancing self-esteem, learning responsible behavior and helping set goals for them to realize their potential. STDs and HIV are important units of study in Health at
this grade level.
GRADE 9 One semester of Health is required for all Grade 9 students which meets state law requirements in the area of health education. The student must pass this course. Board policy allows students to be removed from any Health unit to which parents have objections (and file a written objection). This course deals with decision making related to health and wellness concepts along with the development of an awareness and understanding in the content areas of drugs, death, human sexuality, nutrition, weight, fitness, mental health, personal hygiene and communicable and chronic diseases.
GRADE 10, 11, 12 Health Education make-up (for those who didn't pass in Grade 9): See description above.