J.R. Chester received pregnant the summer season earlier than her senior 12 months of highschool. A vivid scholar with good grades, she gave beginning, 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 faculty didn’t train sexual well being schooling, and stopping being pregnant was a overseas idea. Her sons are actually youngsters.
“If you do not know your choices, you haven’t 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 the highest state rates of teens giving birth 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 rate of repeat teen pregnancies. This fall, faculty 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 might select their very own curriculum and train greater than the state requires, the state’s minimal well being requirements now transcend specializing in abstinence to cease pregnancies and embody instructing center schoolers about contraceptives and giving additional information about stopping sexually transmitted infections, reminiscent of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that has been linked to a number of cancers.
Beforehand, a 2017 report confirmed 58% of Texas faculty 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.
Research shows that intercourse teaching programs that train about contraception are efficient at growing contraceptive use and even delaying sexual exercise amongst younger folks. Abstinence-focused teaching programs, however, haven’t been proven to be significantly efficient at curbing sexual exercise amongst teenagers.
Whether or not Texas teenagers obtain any intercourse ed in any respect, although, relies on whether or not their dad and mom signal them up. Whereas dad and mom beforehand needed to “decide out” of intercourse ed parts of their children’ well being courses, they now must “decide in” for his or her kids to obtain these classes. Which means dad and mom should signal and return a permission slip — a change some worry may result in children lacking out not a lot resulting from parental objections however due to misplaced varieties and language boundaries.
These adjustments in intercourse schooling come because the state ratchets down abortion entry following the Supreme Courtroom 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 colleges educate younger folks about their sexual well being and improvement has taken on new urgency now that many state governments have enacted abortion bans.
Well being advocates say many ladies might 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 data, assets, and company to guard themselves from getting pregnant, and people who don’t.
Texas is large and numerous 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 because the Nineties. It stored in place the standards stating “that there are dangers related to sexual exercise and that abstinence from sexual exercise is the one 100% efficient technique to keep away from dangers.”
According to 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 have to be “harassed.” Simply 20 states and D.C. require that the courses present details about contraception.
Beneath Texas regulation, intercourse ed should nonetheless current abstinence as “the popular selection.” When colleges train about condoms and different types of contraception, they need 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 12 months primarily deal with if and when a Texas scholar learns about sure sexual well being topics. Beneath the state’s earlier requirements, Texas colleges may train about contraception strategies past abstinence, however solely in highschool well being courses, that are non-obligatory. Now, details about contraceptives, in addition to extra about STIs, is taught in center faculty well being courses, that are required.
In Could, the Dallas Impartial College District, one of the nation’s largest, authorized lesson supplies to fulfill the state’s new necessities. However faculty officers right here wished to do extra given the scope of the issue. Advocates say Dallas County has the very best charge 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-obligatory 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 unnoticed primary details about contraceptives, like learn how to placed on a condom.
“One of many major 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 for those who train abstinence, each child will obey. That is a little bit too head-in-the-sand, from my perspective.”
Some critics say the state’s requirements, whereas an enchancment, are insufficient in the case of consent and LGBTQ+ points, together with gender id. The state board does require that colleges train about wholesome relationships and setting private boundaries for sexual exercise.
Beneath Texas regulation, dad and mom have the last word say over not solely whether or not their youngster receives sexual well being schooling, but additionally what is roofed in these classes.
For practically 30 years, faculty districts have been required to create and appoint school health advisory councils, tasked with reviewing and recommending well being curriculums, together with on sexual well being. Most members have to be dad and mom and never district staff, so the content material of intercourse ed courses can nonetheless fluctuate broadly by district.
Jen Biundo, senior director of coverage and analysis at Wholesome Futures of Texas, described a examine she helped conduct asking dad and mom and youngsters who they would favor to show teenagers about intercourse. Whereas dad and mom and youths ranked them in a different way, she stated their selections had been the identical: colleges, medical doctors, and fogeys. Well being advocates level out that not all dad and mom can or do educate their kids about intercourse — and that many teenagers reside in unstable conditions like foster care.
Biundo stated that once they requested teenagers the place they study intercourse, the highest solutions had been “my mates and the web.”
Certainly, some dad and mom, particularly those that had been teen moms themselves, might not find out about contraception or learn how to entry it. “The place are the dad and mom speculated to get the data from?” Chester stated. “As a result of they got here by means of the identical faculty system that did not train intercourse ed, and unexpectedly they’re speculated to know what to show their children.”
“We try to finish that generational curse of being uneducated,” she stated.
This text was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Household Basis. Kaiser Well being Information, an editorially impartial information service, is a program of the Kaiser Household Basis, a nonpartisan well being care coverage analysis group unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.