Thursday, May 21, 2009

Help Teens Get Accurate Health Information

Updated Thursday May 21, 2009 - Efforts to amend SB283, that deals with state health advisory councils, with language that would require "medically-accurate" information be taught in sex-ed classes in Texas public schools failed Wednesday afternoon. Republican lawmakers used a technicality to kill the "medically-accurate information" amendment. Debate on the amendment focused on the issue of providing information on condoms and their success vs failure rates at preventing unplanned pregnancies and STD infections. In the abstinence-only sex ed curriculum, condoms, if mentioned at all, are often described as ineffective and their use is discouraged.

After the "medically-accurate information" amendment defeat, House Democrats decided to not offer a second amendment that would've kept sex ed teachers from dissuading sexually active students from using contraception.

Democratic Rep. Mark Strama's amendment to notify parents about the content of their children's sex ed curriculum did pass, however, and SB 283 passed to third reading. SB 283 requires local ISD school health advisory councils or SHACs, to meet at least four times a year.

Original posting Tuesday May 19, 2009 at 8:02PM - What should Texas students learn about sex in schools? It's a thorny issue lawmakers may be forced to vote on on Wednesday.

A bill, SB283, dealing with state health advisory councils is likely to be amended Wednesday by Texas House lawmakers whose standalone sex-ed reform bills were stalled in committee. The amendments will require "medically-accurate" information be taught in sex-ed classes and that parents be informed of what their kids are learning in school.

Lawmakers who say the state's current abstinence-only sex ed policy isn't working are pushing for the amendments as a step toward reducing the state's high teen birth rate and the healthcare costs that stem from it.

"Teen pregnancy is really a social problem, very destructive, it's the first problem that many other social ills cascade from," said state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

The amendments aren't strong enough to change the abstinence-only policy, but attempt to make sure what's taught under the policy isn't bogus information. The bill to watch Wednesday is SB 283.

Texas receives more federal abstinence-only education funding than any other state in the country, yet Texas has the nation’s third-highest teen pregnancy rate. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) a Texas teen gets pregnant every 10 minutes.

According to a report (PDF Full/Summary) released in February by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) a majority of Texas schools use scare tactics and teach false information in their sex education classes. TFN's two-year study of education materials from 990 Texas school districts showed that about 94 percent of public schools use abstinence-only programs that usually pass moral judgments while giving inaccurate information on contraception and health screenings or ignoring the subjects altogether.

A recent, a large federal 2008 study, again confirms previous studies in its finding that abstinence eduction that tell teens to "just say no to sex" is not as effective as comprehensive sex education. "Taking a [abstinence] pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior, but it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking," according to Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ms. Rosenbaum's report, that appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics, highlights that:
Teenagers who receive abstinence-only sex education and pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a large federal survey released last month.
Take Action: Ask your state Representative in the House to support amendments that Reps. Castro and Villarreal will offer during the debate on SB 283. Click Here to find your State Representative's contact information.

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