STATE LAWMAKERS MUST START ACTING, STOP STALLING …
By Amy Lazenby || According to a report released over a year ago, “A Sterling Opportunity: 25 Years After the Comprehensive Health Education Act” by the New Morning Foundation (a Columbia, S.C.-based health and sex education advocacy group), three out of four South Carolina school districts are failing to comply with a state law outlining how they should teach sex education in the Palmetto State. The report shows that young people are not getting the medically accurate information they need to make healthy decisions, teachers are not trained to teach this material in our schools, and school districts are not held accountable for complying with the law regarding a vital part of public education.
The fact that South Carolina’s youth are not receiving critical reproductive health information is evident in the high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state. The Palmetto State is ranked 12th highest in the nation in the rate of teen pregnancies and 3rd highest in the nation in gonorrhea and syphilis cases in teens. Clearly, not talking about sex isn’t working. South Carolina spends nearly $200 million per year on the repercussions of teen pregnancy, and it would make better financial sense to invest money up front in a comprehensive sex education program than to deal with the consequences of not doing so later.
In response to the report’s findings, TellThemSC (a non-partisan program of the New Morning Foundation that advocates for age-appropriate, medically accurate health education and increased access to high-quality reproductive health counseling and services) has been holding forums with medical experts and community leaders around the state and working with lawmakers for over a year to ensure that S.C.’s students get the facts they need.
An amendment to the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) that addresses South Carolina’s sex education problem recently stalled in the Education and Public Works committee for the second year in a row. Known as the Healthy Youth Amendment (HYA), the legislation would bring the CHEA up to date and includes provisions for ensuring that students are taught medically accurate information, better teacher training, and increased accountability. A budget proviso will also be introduced this legislative session in the Senate Finance Committee that sets money aside to provide grants for teachers to attain the proper certification needed to teach reproductive health education. The proviso calls for a $300,000 one-time, non-recurring
In the wake of the stalled amendment, TellThemSC led an advocacy campaign designed to show legislators that it is time to stop stalling on comprehensive sex education reform in S.C. Over two thousand concerned citizens from across the state called, emailed, and went to the State House this week to speak personally with their representatives about passing the Healthy Youth Amendment, according to Eme Crawford, Manager of Social Media and Online Mobilization for the grassroots group.
Comprehensive sex education programs teach young people to make informed, healthy decisions about abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention. Studies show that the types of programs that the HYA would support are more likely to help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, remain healthy, and avoid negative sexual health outcomes. S.C. lawmakers should stop stalling and make certain that students in the Palmetto State receive instruction that is vital to their health and well-being. By not ensuring that medically accurate information reaches our young people, we are helping to ensure that they will engage in potentially dangerous behavior due to a lack of knowledge about reproductive health.
Opponents of sex education programs argue that this subject matter should not be within the purview of the public school system and is best taught at home. It is true that healthy families are those in which parents and children talk openly and honestly about important life issues, including sex, but so many young people simply do not receive adequate or accurate reproductive health information in their homes. These youth are at greatest risk for unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Thus, our schools must play a role in disseminating the information our children need to make healthy decisions regarding their sexual health.
Statistics show frank talk about reproduction, personal responsibility, pregnancy prevention, and family planning is the best way to reduce unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates. Without such comprehensive reproductive health instruction in our schools, young people in South Carolina simply will not be exposed to the medically accurate sexual health information they need to lower the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state. Simply put, South Carolina has a sex ed problem, and it is long past time to address it.