According to The State, a report by the New Morning Foundation (NMF), a health- and sex-education advocacy group has found that three out of four South Carolina school districts fail to comply with a state law outlining how they should teach sex education. The report, “A Sterling Opportunity: 25 Years After the Comprehensive Health Education Act,” also claims the law is flawed, providing little oversight of what districts are teaching in sex education classes, and needs to be rewritten.
Almost one in five South Carolina school districts did not respond to a required annual survey from the state Department of Education, asking them to provide details of their sex education policies. According to Emma Davidson of NMF, it is difficult to know what South Carolina students are learning in their sex education classes because districts use the “honor system” to report what they are teaching.
Concerned about the lack of state oversight and the state’s higher than average teen birth rate, NMF is pushing lawmakers to revisit the state’s 1988 Comprehensive Education Act. That law required teaching sex education. “The Comprehensive Health Education Act, as written, has significant weaknesses,” Davidson said. “There’s no way to verify if teachers are spending time explaining the basics of reproductive health or if students are learning that condoms prevent pregnancy and STDs.”
“There’s no way to ensure that sex education lessons are based on medically accurate facts or if personal opinions, religious beliefs and other non-scientific perspectives have made their way into the classroom. Beyond the honor system, we simply don’t know how time is spent in the classroom and what students are learning.” Some decisions on classroom materials and topics to be covered are left to the discretion of school districts. The result, Davidson said, is students attending schools in neighboring districts could receive very different information in their sex-ed classes.
The foundation’s report is based in part on school districts’ 2011 responses to a state Education Department sex education survey. Only 81% of the state’s 85 school districts responded to that survey. Five school districts had not responded to the survey in three years, according to the Education Department.
The foundation recommends lawmakers take steps to ensure students are receiving quality, consistent information and districts know what is expected of them. It also recommends requiring districts to report detailed instructional practices and set minimum hours for staff development.
The foundation also would like to see changes in the law’s language, including its current requirement that contraception always be discussed in the context of “future family planning.” That language “implies that no unmarried persons are sexually active, and ignores the fact that the majority of high school seniors in South Carolina report having engaged in sexual activity,” according to the report.
According to Education Department Spokesman Jay Ragley, state schools chief Mick Zais agrees with only one of the foundation’s recommendations: School districts that fail to comply with the law need to be held accountable.
Source: The State, 1/31/13, By Jamie Self
[Editor's Note: The executive summary of NMF's report states: "The goal of this study was to assess whether South Carolina’s schools, by and large, are in compliance with The Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA), and whether the General Assembly’s legislative intentions have been fulfilled." It found that "[r]esults indicated the majority of school districts are not in compliance with the reproductive health education aspects of CHEA. The report also “determined that teacher training is inadequate and inconsistent.”
In August 2012, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in The Washington Post, which reported that two parents and a coalition of groups in California had filed a lawsuit against Clovis Unified School District alleging that its sex education program was putting teens’ health at risk by failing to provide students with information about condoms and contraception. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the lawsuit was the first of its kind in California since the passage of a 2003 law that required sex health education in public schools to be comprehensive and medically accurate.]