J.R. Chester obtained pregnant the summer season earlier than her senior yr of highschool. A vivid pupil with good grades, she gave delivery, 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 college didn’t train sexual well being schooling, and stopping being pregnant was a international idea. Her sons at the moment are 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, college 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 could 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, comparable to the human papillomavirus (HPV) that has been linked to a number of cancers.
Beforehand, a 2017 report confirmed 58% of Texas college districts supplied “abstinence-only” sexual well being schooling, whereas solely 17% supplied curriculums that expanded past that. 1 / 4 of faculties supplied no intercourse ed.
Research shows that intercourse education schemes that train about contraception are efficient at growing contraceptive use and even delaying sexual exercise amongst younger individuals. Abstinence-focused education schemes, 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, is dependent upon whether or not their mother and father signal them up. Whereas mother and father beforehand needed to “choose out” of intercourse ed parts of their youngsters’ well being lessons, they now need to “choose in” for his or her kids to obtain these classes. Which means mother and father should signal and return a permission slip — a change some worry might result in youngsters lacking out not a lot attributable to parental objections however due to misplaced kinds and language obstacles.
These modifications in intercourse schooling come because the state ratchets down abortion entry following the Supreme Court docket choice 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 faculties educate younger individuals about their sexual well being and growth has taken on new urgency now that many state governments have enacted abortion bans.
Well being advocates say many ladies could haven’t any alternative 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 information, sources, and company to guard themselves from getting pregnant, and those that don’t.
Texas is massive and numerous sufficient to wish 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 for the reason that Nineties. It saved in place the standards stating “that there are dangers related to sexual exercise and that abstinence from sexual exercise is the one 100% efficient methodology 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 lessons present details about abstinence, with 29 of them requiring that it have to be “confused.” Simply 20 states and D.C. require that the lessons present details about contraception.
Beneath Texas regulation, intercourse ed should nonetheless current abstinence as “the popular alternative.” When faculties train about condoms and different types of contraception, they have 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 modifications taking impact this yr primarily tackle if and when a Texas pupil learns about sure sexual well being topics. Beneath the state’s earlier requirements, Texas faculties might train about contraception strategies past abstinence, however solely in highschool well being lessons, that are non-compulsory. Now, details about contraceptives, in addition to extra about STIs, is taught in center college well being lessons, that are required.
In Could, the Dallas Unbiased Faculty District, one of the nation’s largest, accepted lesson supplies to satisfy the state’s new necessities. However college officers right here needed to do extra given the scope of the issue. Advocates say Dallas County has the best charge of repeat teen pregnancies within the nation.
The district curriculum goes past the state minimal and consists of gender identification and additional details about contraceptives, in addition to a contract with Wholesome Futures of Texas to show an non-compulsory after-school program for highschool college students.
The earlier curriculum was “very scientific” and “very dry,” stated Dustin Marshall, a member of the varsity district’s board of trustees, and not noted primary details about contraceptives, like the right way to placed on a condom.
“One of many main methods to cut back teen being pregnant and relieve generational poverty from teen being pregnant is to show contraception,” he stated. “To not simply assume that when you train abstinence, each child will obey. That is a bit of too head-in-the-sand, from my perspective.”
Some critics say the state’s requirements, whereas an enchancment, are insufficient relating to consent and LGBTQ+ points, together with gender identification. The state board does require that faculties train about wholesome relationships and setting private boundaries for sexual exercise.
Beneath Texas regulation, mother and father have the final word say over not solely whether or not their baby receives sexual well being schooling, but in addition what is roofed in these classes.
For almost 30 years, college 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 mother and father and never district staff, so the content material of intercourse ed lessons can nonetheless fluctuate broadly by district.
Jen Biundo, senior director of coverage and analysis at Wholesome Futures of Texas, described a research she helped conduct asking mother and father and youngsters who they would like to show teenagers about intercourse. Whereas mother and father and teenagers ranked them otherwise, she stated their decisions had been the identical: faculties, docs, and oldsters. Well being advocates level out that not all mother and father can or do educate their kids about intercourse — and that many teenagers stay in unstable conditions like foster care.
Biundo stated that once they requested teenagers the place they find out about intercourse, the highest solutions had been “my mates and the web.”
Certainly, some mother and father, particularly those that had been teen moms themselves, could not find out about contraception or the right way to entry it. “The place are the mother and father speculated to get the information from?” Chester stated. “As a result of they got here by way of the identical college system that did not train intercourse ed, and unexpectedly they’re speculated to know what to show their youngsters.”
“We are attempting 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 unbiased information service, is a program of the Kaiser Household Basis, a nonpartisan well being care coverage analysis group unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.