Most Miss. Districts Choose Abstinence-Only | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Most Miss. Districts Choose Abstinence-Only

JACKSON (AP) — More than half of Mississippi's school districts have chosen an abstinence-only approach to sex education, starting in the upcoming school year.

Eighty-one districts have chosen that approach, according to a list released Friday by the state Department of Education. Seventy-one have chosen abstinence-plus, which could include the mention of contraception — but still without any demonstration of condoms.

Three districts are taking a split approach, with abstinence-only for younger grades and abstinence-plus for older grades.

Mississippi has long had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation. A state law enacted in 2011 requires school districts to teach some sort of sex education, beginning in the 2012-13 academic year. Districts had a June 30, 2012, deadline to choose abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. There is a separate process for each district to choose a specific curriculum for the lessons.

Parents must give permission for their children to take the classes, and boys and girls are separated.

The state's largest school district, DeSoto County, chose abstinence-only. The second-largest district, in the city of Jackson, chose abstinence-plus.

The state Board of Education chose abstinence-plus for four specialty schools it governs: the Mississippi School for the Deaf and the Mississippi School for the Blind, both in Jackson; the Mississippi School of the Arts, in Brookhaven; and the Mississippi School for Math and Science, in Columbus.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed a group earlier this year to study ways to reduce teenage pregnancy. He has said repeatedly that he believes abstinence-only is the best approach to teaching young people about sex.

A study released in September 2011 showed births to teen or preteen mothers cost Mississippi $154.9 million in 2009.

That included increased costs of foster care, social services and incarceration for young people born years ago to teen moms. It also took into account lost revenue from people who have lower levels of education and lower-paying jobs because they became parents when they were younger than 20.

The study was done by a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called the Mississippi Economic Policy Center and was sponsored by the Women's Fund of Mississippi. It was also supported by Mississippi First, an advocacy group for health and education issues.

Mississippi First and the Women's Fund advocate an evidence-based sex education curriculum that includes information about contraception, disease prevention and responsibility that they say can help reduce the rates of teen and preteen pregnancies.

"We are pleased and excited that so many districts decided to go with abstinence-plus," Jamie H. Bardwell, program director for the Women's Fund, said Friday. "It definitely shows a need and a desire for more than just abstinence-only. It reflects the reality that 76 percent of Mississippi 12th-graders have already had sex."

Mississippi First lobbied for districts in 17 counties with high rates of teen birth and sexually transmitted disease to adopt abstinence-plus curricula that have been studied and show measurable benefits.

State Health Department statistics show that in 2009, there were 7,078 live births to mothers aged 10 to 19. That meant that for every 1,000 girls or women in that age group, about 64 gave birth to a baby who lived. The rate for the U.S. was 39 live births among every 1,000 girls or women younger than 20. The statistics do not include pregnancies that ended in stillbirths, miscarriages or abortions.

Under a previous law, Mississippi school districts were not required to teach either comprehensive sex education or abstinence. Districts were allowed to teach abstinence, but if they wanted to teach more than that, they needed local school board approval.

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