Texas Fights Teenage Pregnancy, Revises Sex Education Standards

TECHNOLOGY

DALLAS — JR Chester got pregnant the summer before her senior year of high school. She graduated after giving birth, and she was pregnant again when she entered college in the fall of that year.

She was a teenage mother, just like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her school did not teach sexual health education, and preventing pregnancy was a foreign concept. Her sons are now teenagers.

“If you don’t know your options, you have no options,” said Chester, now Program Director for Healthy Futures at Texas, a nonprofit sexual health advocacy and education organization. And it just felt like: when it happens, it happens.

While teenage pregnancies have declined both statewide and nationally in recent decades, Texas still has 22.4 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19. It is one of the states with the highest rate. 6.1 Along with Alabama, Texas has the highest rate of her teen re-pregnancy in the nation. This fall, Texas school districts are marking a shift to what educators call an “abstinence-plus” curriculum. This is the first time the state has revised its standards for sexual health education in over 20 years.

Districts may choose their own curricula and teach more than the state requires, but state minimum health standards currently focus on more than just abstinence to stop pregnancy. It also includes teaching middle school students about birth control pills and providing additional information on preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including humans. Papillomavirus (HPV) associated with several cancers.

Previously, a 2017 report found that 58% of Texas school districts offered “abstinence-only” sexual health education, and only 17% offered more curricula. A quarter of schools did not offer sex education.

Studies show that sex education programs that teach contraception are effective in increasing contraceptive use and delaying sexual activity among young people. Educational programs that focus on abstinence, on the other hand, have not been shown to be particularly effective in curbing sexual activity in teens.

However, whether Texas teens receive sex education depends on whether their parents are enrolled. Parents used to have to “opt out” of the sex education portion of their child’s health classes, but now have to “opt in” for their child to take those lessons. This means that the parent must sign and return the consent form. The change is not due to parental objections, but because of missing forms and language barriers, it can lead to children missing out on a lot.

These changes in sex education came as states phased out access to abortion after a June Supreme Court ruling was overturned. Law vs Wade, guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. With many state governments enacting laws banning abortion, the question of how schools educate young people about sexual health and development has taken on new urgency.

Health advocates say many women may have no choice but to continue their pregnancies to full term, creating a new class of haves and have-nots. do not do.

Texas is vast and diverse, requiring educational policies that can accommodate remote frontier towns and sprawling metropolitan areas. Both are areas with high rates of unintended pregnancies in her teens.

In 2019, the Texas Board of Education began rewriting health education standards that have been in place since the 1990s. We maintained the standard that “there is a risk associated with sexual activity and abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid the risk”.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research institute, 39 states and the District of Columbia require information about abstinence to be provided in sex education classes, with 29 classes “emphasizing” abstinence. is needed. Only 20 states and Washington, DC require classes to provide information about contraception.

Under Texas law, sex education must still present abstinence as a “preferred option.” When schools teach condoms and other contraceptive methods, they use what the State of Texas calls “actual human usage,” or “typical usage,” as described in the medical literature. Must provide.

The changes going into effect this year primarily address when and when Texas students learn about specific sexual health issues. Under the state’s previous standards, Texas schools could teach birth control methods beyond abstinence, but only in high school health classes, which were optional. In addition, information about contraceptives is taught in mandatory middle school health classes.

In May, the Dallas Independent School District, one of the largest in the nation, approved course materials to meet new state requirements. But school officials here wanted to do more, given the scope of the problem. Advocates say Dallas County has the highest rate of re-pregnancy among her teens in the country.

The school district’s curriculum exceeds state minimum standards and includes additional information on gender identity and contraceptives, as well as a contract with Texas Healthy Future to teach optional after-school programs for high school students.

School district board member Dustin Marshall said the previous curriculum was “very scientific” and “very dry”, leaving out basic information about contraception such as how to wear a condom.

“One of the main ways to reduce teenage pregnancies and alleviate generational poverty from teenage pregnancies is to teach contraception,” he said. “Don’t assume that if you teach abstinence, all children will comply. From my point of view, it’s a little crazy.”

Some critics say state standards have improved, but fall short on LGBTQ+ issues, including consent and gender identity. A state board mandates that schools teach healthy relationships and set personal boundaries for sexual activity.

Under Texas law, parents have the final say in whether their children receive sexual health education, as well as what those lessons cover.

The STI and Pregnancy Prevention brochure is part of the resources available at the Dallas office of Healthy Futures of Texas, a Texas-wide nonprofit health advocacy and education organization.(Emarie Hüttemann/KHN)

For nearly 30 years, school districts have been required to establish and appoint school health advisory committees. The School Health Advisory Committee is tasked with reviewing and recommending health curricula, including sexual health. The content of sex education classes varies greatly from district to district, as most members must be guardians rather than district employees.

Jen Biundo, senior director of policy and research at Healthy Futures of Texas, briefed parents and teens who want to teach teens about sex about the research she helped conduct. Although she ranks her parents and her teens differently, she said the schools, doctors and parents’ choices are the same. The health advocate points out that not all parents are able to educate their children about sex, and many of her teens are living in precarious conditions like foster homes.

Biundo says that when teens are asked where they learn about sex, the most common answer is “friends and the internet.”

In fact, some parents, especially those who were teen mothers, may not know about or how to access contraception. “Where should parents get their knowledge from?” said Chester. “Because they went through the same school system that didn’t teach sex education, and suddenly they knew what to teach their kids.”

“We are ending the generational curse of being uneducated,” she said.

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