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Sex-Ed in Flagler: School District Prepares to Move Away from Abstinence Only

| March 14, 2011

Balthus katia reading

Balthus, 'Katia Reading' (1968-1976). Click on the image for larger view.

Flagler County school students don’t get sex education anymore. There is an official, abstinence-only curriculum in place. But it’s not taught. Students get “health” education in PE classes, where they’re supposed to get some abstinence-only talk about sex, but they generally don’t beyond the basic message: don’t have sex. There’s no informative discussion of sex, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, sexual identity or any of a variety of issues associated with sexual health.

The school district is considering moving away from that approach—or non-approach. In a meeting on Monday, the Flagler County School Board endorsed several steps its administration has taken to date to prepare the way, and more publicly visible and involving steps ahead.

By later this week, its office of student services, under the direction of Katrina Townsend, will have a survey that’ll go out to middle and high school students as well as to parents. The entirely anonymous survey, which can never be traced back to those who fill it out, will gauge the state of sexual activity among teens. It’ll ask when students started having sex, whether they used condoms, if not, why not (cost? Embarrassment? Lack of access?), whether they thing schools should provide more information about sexual health, whether and how peer pressure plays a role, and so on.

The survey results will be used to guide the board should it decide to redesigns its sex-ed curriculum. It will also be used to guide town-hall style meetings the district will lead in order to more broadly and directly hear from parents and students. One such meeting takes place April 7 in a conference room at the district office.

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About the Sex Survey:

  • The sex survey going out to Flagler students and parents is being prepared by Katrina Townsend, director of the school district’s office of student services. Reach her at 386/437-7526, x2300, or by email here.

Whatever changes take place to institute a more realistic sex-ed curriculum, those changes are likely top remain on paper for now for several reasons. The district’s curriculum is jammed and short of time as it is, which is one reason why health classes have all but vanished. The district is moving toward eliminating some class time, to save money, not increase it. Electives and other non-core classes will suffer. A revamped sex-ed curriculum may be desirable, but some board members want it to be substantive—and presented by well-trained teachers, not handed off willy-nilly to untrained or unwilling ones. “Our most important position on any of this is who’s going to teach it, because that’s huge,” Sue Dickinson, the school board’s chairperson, said.

All of that requires time in the schedule, and money for training. Neither are in evidence. To some extent, therefore, the discussion may be more philosophical than substantive.

That said, right now the direction of the board, though nowhere near committed, is to go toward something called “abstinence-plus.” Abstinence would remain the predominant message. In other words, to avoid getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease, there is no more effective alternative than abstinence. But “abstinence-plus” also abandons the notion that either sex outside of marriage or that sexual-health information in itself is harmful.

Rather, an abstinence-plus curriculum would educate students who would have sex about the importance of emotional readiness and contraception, and more readily teach the facts of sexually transmitted diseases, which affect teens and young adults disproportionately: by one measure, half of all sexually active youths catch a sexually transmitted disease by age 25. According to the Centers for Disease Control, adolescents are more likely to acquire STDs because of limited access to condoms and preventive care and a higher susceptibility to infection. Among sexually active teens, about one in four contracts an STD every year, while half of all new HIV infections are occurring among people younger than 25. That’s not been changing much merely by telling teens to keep their pants zipped.

Take Flagler County and Florida.

There are five middle school girls who are pregnant at the moment in Flagler County—that the school district knows of, anyway: the girls are continuing their education through virtual schooling. The sexually transmitted disease rate among teens 15-19 in Flagler County is higher than that of Volusia or Miami Dade. Cases of Chlamydia among girls 15-19 doubled, from 43 to 82, between 2006 and 2008. Total cases of HIV infection rose from three in 2006 to 11 in 2008.

The trend is down. Source: Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a Florida-wide survey of 732 high school students two years ago, half reported having had sex already, almost half (45 percent) reported having had oral sex, and 8.3 percent reported having had sex before they’d turned 13. Birth control usage among them was dismal: just 16 percent of the girls reported using any form of birth control. And one in five reported either drinking or doing drugs before sex, which can further impair judgment.

Getting pregnant is also its own sort of cool these days. “That’s one of the phenomena we’re seeing in our student population now, and there are a lot of TV shows with teen pregnancy and that whole lifestyle,” Townsend said. “Some of it is based on a lot of misinformation.”

The result: a rate of 33.5 teen births per 1,000 girls, on average, every year, between 2007 and 2009 in Flagler County. That’s actually on the low end in Florida, where the state rate was 43.2 birth per 1,000 girls in 2010, almost a full point higher than the national rate of 42.5. (For comparison’s sake, Miami Dade’s rate is 34, virtually the same as Flagler’s, St. Johns’ is 23, and Volusia’s is 40. The highest rate in the state was Hamilton County’s, at 77. Numbers presented to the school board in a workshop on Monday were actually erroneous, showing a rate of 85 births per thousand for girls 15-19. That’s actually the number of live births to mothers that age, not the rate, in recent years, and that figure actually went up to 89 when the latest three-year average—2007-09—is applied.)

One hang-up during Monday’s discussion: neither board member Colleen Conklin nor John Fischer want to see condoms handed out in clinics at school. Dickinson, who was a school nurse, said the notion shouldn’t be thrown out before it is at least piloted in a couple of schools. Conklin seemed more open to that idea. Not so Fischer, who equates the availability of contraception as an endorsement and encouragement of sex. Board member Andy Dance isn’t inclined to go for the condom idea, but he said he hasn’t researched the matter enough to take a position yet.

“You guys are looking a little shell-shocked,” Townsend told the board after her presentation. (Board member Trevor Tucker was absent.) And that was in a room without a broader public presence. The board is bracing itself for a public response once word gets out about the survey and the board’s direction.

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13 Responses for “Sex-Ed in Flagler: School District Prepares to Move Away from Abstinence Only”

  1. Liana G says:

    I attended one of the workshops/discussions with my kids in tow, and I found it very, very helpful. Thumbs Up on this one. My kids were embarrased but I was grateful and now we have a lot of comfortable discussions that I would not have dreamt of broaching. Than You Ms Townsend! and you too Sue?

  2. FPC mom says:

    Everyday they go to school with a Algebra book in one hand and a baby in the other……. Having a daycare in the school building makes motherhood seem easy and sexual activity became even more acceptable they day they started busing the young mothers to school with babies in tow. I think these girls should continue being educated but they need to learn to be mothers during the day and go to school at night or online. I would much rather see them pick up a condom in the nurses office than carrying those babies around the school! I think Mr. Fischer should spend a day at the high school day care and take a good look.

  3. Yes, girls shouldn’t go to school with their children because you don’t like seeing them. I don’t like uppity mothers with a sense of moral superiority. Could your child take the bus to school from now on?

    That was sarcasm, but really, both the girls and their children are likely going to have better lives because of the daycare programs.

  4. When we took tours of colleges our oldest (FPC 2010 graduate) wanted to go to, one thing that stood out rather clearly at FAU was the big ole’ bucket of condoms readily available to kids. Next to it, was a bucket of lollipops. You could pick a flavour of each. It was rather refreshing.

    Shame on anyone who thinks that teaching kids that sex is some horrible thing is in any way healthy. Give them the facts, and this way they don’t have to hunt for them on porn sites, or worse yet get their sex ed from Family Guy…

    On a related note, when that same oldest was at Indian Trails, they played sex bingo in class. That’s when a kid is supposed to scream out rather uncomfortable words when they bingo-ed. (body parts, mostly). I’d rather my kids could pick up condoms in a hallway without having to go to a drug store than scream ‘vagina’ in a room full of peers.

  5. Jenn Kuiper says:

    Information about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy should be taught in health classes, but I wouldn’t take it as far as handing out condoms at school because it does endorse the idea that it’s ok for teens to have sex as long as it’s safe sex. Well, it’s safer sex but it’s not safe sex; for example, condoms are only approximately 60% effective against HPV. Kids need to know this so they can make better decisions. I remember learning in high school that 1 in 4 of my graduating class would contract an STD by the time we graduated. That was 15 years ago. The statistics are likely higher now. That was enough for me to hear in order to convince me to wait and I’d bet it would convince many other teens. What needs to be taught in conjunction with sex ed is a sense of self-worth. Some, not all, of our kids are downright mean to each other and they knock each other down to make themselves feel better. Self-esteem is at an all-time low. It’s well-known that girls use sex to get love and guys use love to get sex. Notice the word “use.” It’s all about using and it’s not ok to use someone else for ANYTHING. We lack compassion. We have to teach kids not only to respect each other, but to respect themselves and their own bodies. Why engage in an act that is dangerous to yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually? And why engage in an act that will make someone else struggle emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually? Sex is an intimate act that should be shared between two people who love each other deeply and have taken the time to discern that they do value their partner’s needs even above their own. That’s what love is and that’s when sex is safest.

  6. Jim Guines says:

    Someone should tell poor Andy that it is a little late to research the issue of condoms. How long has he been married?

  7. elaygee says:

    And what are people who can’t get married suppossed to do? Abstain for life? As long as people rely on their imaginary sky god and the bible book of fairy tales, reality will have nothing to do with sex education

  8. @Jenn “Why engage in an act that is dangerous to yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually?” – it’s when sex related info is mired in sentiments you voiced (quoted above) that kids don’t take their adult educators seriously. We keep making sex into some monstrous ugly thing naively believing that the fear will somehow reverse the course of hormones. By the same token, anything even mildly erotic is frowned upon, and needs to be covered up, so the kiddos don’t get damaged. I’d like to see stats for teen pregnancies and std’s and such from places where sex isn’t a monster, where protection and information are easily accessible without shame or embarrassment, and where a nude body part on tv does not cause moral indignation. No time to dig, but I’m game if someone else does.

  9. Jenn Kuiper says:

    Inna, I’m not saying sex is bad. In fact it is good, very good. I’m just saying that we’re talking about teens as young as 13 here in the high school, and the fact is that they are nowhere near emotionally ready to handle a sexual relationship. I’m sure there’s a lot of psychological evidence supporting this. Sure, we can teach about safe sex, but again, it’s not ever 100% safe unless neither party has been in a sexual relationship. It’s sad that this is the case but it’s absolutely true. I’ve talked to many young girls who have felt used by their boyfriends, even if they weren’t taught it was “wrong” by their parents or religious institutions, and they got seriously depressed and felt like they were somehow worthless when of course that isn’t the case. We can’t deny those emotions.

  10. johninc says:

    Wow, teachnig Sex Ed… what’s next – computers in school?!? (sarcasm for those who missed it).

    It’s the 21 Century people – welcome. Knowledge is power. Teach your children well and they will make good decisions.

  11. Jodie Abshire says:

    My daughter got this survey without my permission today and I am not a happy camper! She is in the sixth grade and is more confused now than ever. She asked me what a commando was? She meant condom! Sixth grade is too young, in my opinion to be asking kids if they have had sex and how old they were and have they used condoms! Unacceptable and I should have been alerted before my child was exposed to this! A phone call would have been nice! I never got a permission slip!

  12. momof2 says:

    I do not think sex ed belongs in schools at all, other than abstinence, THE END. I completely agree with Jodie, when were the parents ASKED if their child could participate in these surveys? My teen is well-versed in all the sex ed she could possibly need by my husband and I teaching her myself. The same goes for my younger son. We have a very open relationship with our children and allow any and all questions/concerns to be addressed with out judgement. As for elaygee’s comment above, I teach my children to follow the Bible (or as you say, the book of fairy tales), and abstinence until marriage is an expectation, a rule to be followed. I am a realist, and will deal with any situations that may arise in my family; however, it’s not my fault that everyone else can’t parent their own children and teach them morality.

  13. Cynthia Burnett says:

    While I support the premise that our children should have a health and wellness componant in the public school curriculum that includes the consiquences and prevention of disease and pregancy my support stops short at teaching our children acceptable social lifestyles. This is a subject that is taught in a childs Family,whatever that family dynamic might be.
    If it were to be taught in school it would fall into the catagory of sociology. Rather than to be guised as health and wellness.
    The purposed change in policy from abstinence only to abstinance plus is disconcerting as explained in the brochure posted on the Flagler County Schools website. It is vague and ambiguous.
    The following is a direct quote from the ‘Brochure’
    The three components defined below
    include aspects of sexual health education:
    Family Life includes instruction on family
    structures, roles and responsibilities, gender
    roles, sexual stereotypes, marriage, divorce,
    sexuality education, parenting, physical and
    sexual abuse, building family relationships,
    child abuse, the family life cycle, family
    planning, and heredity…(see far bottom right of the page)
    Again, these issues are more approprately defined as sociology or even psychology rather than health and wellness.
    My concern with the purposed change is, as written, it is open to interpretation. Who inturprets?
    These social issues are taught at home based upon the familys faith and moral values.
    While we do not have the right to judge,decide or dictate the faith or values of another, the public school system MUST NOT dictate or instruct upon faith and or moral values to our children. This is an aspect of a childs education which is the sole right and responsibilty of a parent and or guardian.
    Than there is the additional issue of age appropriateness.
    Community control is the standard for these types of policies.
    Any policy enacted MUST be specifically defined so we in the community may decide what is and is not appropriate.
    The school board is an elected body and thus must represent the views of the electorate they represent.
    If you have children in Flagler County’s school system or know someone who does or just care about what is happening to our community’s morals and values in light of the current trend toward ‘political correctness’, I ask that you to attend, and encourage others as well, the school board meeting scheduled for April 7th. At this meeting you may express your views on this subject.
    Expressing our views is not only our right as citizens but our responsibilty. This is democracy. Everyone of us has a voice.
    Above refferenced brochure can be viewed at the following web address:

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