Despite new law, changes unlikely to sex educationWisconsin schools can now teach abstinence-only sex education, but local educators are showing little interest in moving away from the current curriculum that covers contraception.
By: By Jon Swedien, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
Wisconsin schools can now teach abstinence-only sex education, but local educators are showing little interest in moving away from the current curriculum that covers contraception.
A new state law, backed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker earlier this month, clears the way for abstinence-only curriculum by repealing a requirement that health teachers instruct students on how condoms and birth control can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy as a part of sex education, a measure Democrats passed in 2010.
The law doesn't prohibit schools from covering contraceptives, and several area school officials and health teachers in the Chippewa Valley said they have no plans to move away from comprehensive sex education.
"The law really doesn't change our curriculum," said Jim Sauter, Chippewa Falls High School principal. "Right now we do not plan to modify our curriculum in any way."
The Menomonie school district is reviewing its health curriculum, which stresses abstinence but includes instruction on contraceptives, said high school principal David Munoz.
Several area health teachers are among the new law's critics. They point to studies showing abstinence-only curriculum is less effective at preventing teen pregnancy than curriculum that covers contraception.
"We've been tracking this for decades, and we know abstinence-only education doesn't work as well," said Gretchen Beckstrom, a health teacher in the Eau Claire school district.
She added that while abstinence is best for students, health class should also prepare them for life beyond high school.
"I need to prepare kids for the future. They're not always going to be ninth-graders," Beckstrom said. "Someday they're going to need to protect themselves from STDs. And they're going to want to plan their families."
Meanwhile, supporters of the law point out districts can still teach students about contraceptives if they choose and say it gives communities more freedom to make decisions about sex education curriculum.
"I do not understand why sex education is such a big-to-do with some people," Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, who backed the new sex education law.
"It's like everybody knows what's best for our children. I think it (should be) a local issue as much as possible," Bernier said.
Curriculum in Wisconsin communities is not set by health teachers and school officials alone.
State law has long required teachers work with advisory committees that advise school boards on how to set sex education curriculum.
Membership in these committees includes teachers, school administrators, pupils, health care professionals, clergy, and other residents in the district. The committees meet about every three years to review curriculum.
In the Eau Claire school district that will likely happen this fall, said Ann Franke, director of secondary education, who also is the district's health coordinator.
Franke said the district will be looking to select new members for the committee in the coming months.
Critics of the new law said the old law set a solid foundation for committees to craft curriculum.
The old law was aimed at reducing teen birth rates. Teen birth rates in Wisconsin dropped nine percent from 2009 to 2010 and have dropped 44 percent since 1991.
In addition to the new law, Beckstrom and other health teachers said they're also concerned about cutbacks in the Eau Claire school district's health curriculum.
She said budget cuts have required the Eau Claire school district to cut some health classes, including sixth-grade health and a class for high school juniors and seniors.
Swedien can be reached at 715-833-9214, 800-236-7077 or email@example.com.
(c)2012 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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