Schools seek feedback for 7th, 8th grade sex-ed program

Due to what are said to be increased rates of sexual activity, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among Arizona’s teens, members of the Kyrene School District’s Health Steering Committee have concluded that a new approach to the district’s sex-education curriculum for seventh- and eighth-graders is necessary.

Citing a published report, committee members refer to the most recent Arizona Youth Risk Behavior Study, completed in 2007, which shows a significant leap in sexual activity after eighth grade.

According to the survey, the number of students who had sexual intercourse before the age of 13 was 5.7 percent; at ninth grade 29 percent; and by 12th grade 65 percent, or two-thirds, of Arizona high school seniors.

Increased birthrates among teens 15 to 17 years old, as reported by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancies, are also cited by the committee as another reason to revise the previous sex-education curriculum.

Proposed program

Under the existing program, Catholic Charities Community Services of Arizona provides the eighth-grade sexual education curriculum, but declines to provide a discussion identifying so-called barrier methods of protection.

This “abstinence-only” curriculum was deemed inadequate by the committee, which is proposing to change the program to an “abstinence-plus” curriculum.

Objectives for the suggested program include a discussion of barrier methods of protection, such as condom use, to prevent pregnancy, STIs, body image, self-esteem, dating safety, rape and sexual abuse. However, the committee maintains that the new program would only identify barrier devices of protection and will not provide demonstration on how to use them or perform any distribution of such devices.

However, in a statement issued to the public, the Health Steering Committee stresses their main message will continue to be one of “abstinence is best.”

Kyrene Corridor residents assuming unwanted pregnancies affect only “someone else’s family” may want to consider that the cost of increased birthrates among teens is passed directly onto every Arizona taxpayer – and the cost, evidently, is staggering.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, paid for 53,121 deliveries in 2006, more than half the state’s live births, at a cost of $223 million, or an average of $4,200 per birth. That cost does not include post-natal care, health care, food stamps or the myriad other state services available to mothers meeting specific income criteria.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancies, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., in 2007 there were 15,038 teen pregnancies, of which 4,466 were among teens ages 15-17.

The Health Steering Committee reports that STIs among Arizona youth in 2007 increased from 372 cases in the 10- to 14-year-old age group to 9,464 in the 15- to 19-year-old age group, or a 30-fold increase.

These data represents compelling evidence that students in seventh and eighth grade need additional information to make better choices should they choose to engage in sexual activity, according to the committee’s study.

“I believe children at this age should be taught abstinence,” says resident Betty Frantz, who has two children in the Kyrene School District.

“However, I’m also a realist. I believe children need to be informed and protected. They say it’s the responsibility of parents, not schools, to teach their children about this subject, but 40 percent of children in Arizona are born to unwed mothers. I’d prefer that children not have to pay the price of a bad choice the rest of their life.”

The Kyrene School District is asking parents, teachers and community members to review the proposed revisions to the sex-education program, known as “Human Growth and Development and HIV/AIDS and STI Curriculum.”

Comments and feedback can be provided online at www.kyrene.org (click on Curriculum Review). Parents may also visit the district office at 8700 S. Kyrene Road, Tempe, through April 24.

Following public input, a recommendation will be made to the district’s Governing Board at its April 28 meeting.

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