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Schools OK early plans for sex education

Leaders of Brookhaven and Lincoln Countyschools have adopted sex education policies well ahead of astate-mandated deadline, but program details remain undecided.

    Mississippi lawmakers passed legislation, House Bill 999, in Marchrequiring public schools to implement an abstinence-only or anabstinence-plus sex education program by the 2012-13 schoolyear.

    Selection between the two is made at the discretion of districtleaders. Both Brookhaven and Lincoln County school districts haveopted for abstinence-only.

    “Abstinence-only was the best fit for our district,” said Dr. LisaKarmacharya, superintendent of Brookhaven School District.

    According to the bill, abstinence-only programs may includediscussion of condoms and contraceptives if they give the risks andfailure rates of each.

    Abstinence-plus programs have more leeway to discuss condoms andcontraceptives but are still required to provide the risks andfailure rates. Such programs may also provide information on theprevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

    Karmacharya downplayed the presence of sex education in class andexplained that health-related instruction at Brookhaven schoolswill continue to look much the same.

    “This only strengthens what is already there. STDs (and) conceptionare already covered in the biology and health curriculum,” shesaid.

    House Bill 999 requires separation of male and female studentsduring sex education and prohibits programs that exclude abstinenceinstruction.

    Otherwise, districts retain much flexibility. The law requires nospecific curriculum, but the Mississippi Department of Educationmust approve the curriculum districts choose.

    The Mississippi Department of Human Services and the MississippiDepartment of Health are instructed by the bill to develop a sexeducation program, which districts may select if they wish.

    The Brookhaven district will wait to see what the state programlooks like before making a curriculum decision, Karmacharyasaid.

    Though a policy is adopted, Brookhaven schools will not begin sexeducation until the 2012-13 school year as required.

    However, Lincoln County schools are developing sex education withthe aim of integrating it into health education courses this year,said Director of Curriculum and Testing Richelle Ratcliff.

    She said school leaders “will comply and do everything we need to”to ensure the Lincoln County program meets the state standards.

    The bill does not state at what grade sex education must begin,only that such education must be “age, grade and developmentallyappropriate.”

    Karmacharya said her preference would be to begin sex education injunior high.

    Details of Lincoln County’s program are not yet available.

    All programs are designated as “opt-in” by the law. Parents mustgive written notice allowing students to participate in sexeducation.

    Mississippi teen pregnancy rates rank as the nation’s highest. In2009, Mississippi recorded 64.4 teenage births per 1,000 girls ages15-19 according to 2009 records.

    The national average of teenage births in that age group is39.1.

    Data compiled by Mississippi First, a policy advocacy organization,puts Lincoln County above the state numbers with 73.7 births per1,000 girls 15-19,

    That puts Lincoln roughly in the middle of Mississippi’s 82counties. According to Mississippi First, Lincoln County ranks 37thamong Mississippi counties in teen birth rates, 38th in Chlamydiainfections and 34th in Gonorrhea infections.

    Only four counties in the state have averages lower than thenational average, said Mississippi First Executive Director RachaelCanter.

    In explaining the state’s numbers, Canter pointed to the underlyingstatistics: rates of teen sexual activity.

    “Kids in Mississippi have more sex at younger ages than kids in anyother state in the country,” Canter said. “By the 12th grade, 76percent of students have become sexually active.”

    Mississippi First advocates for abstinence-plus sex education, andin conjunction with the Mississippi Department of Health offersfunds to districts that choose an abstinence-plus program selectedby Mississippi First.