Update: for preliminary results of the survey, go here.
Flagler County schools’ sex survey is out: beginning last night and through Friday, every adult in the county will be invited to fill out the seven-question survey (See the box a couple of paragpraphs below for the links). On Wednesday and Thursday, every student in middle and high school will be invited to do so, though no one is required to fill it out, and parents may opt their children out. The surveys are entirely voluntary and anonymous.
The aim is to give the school district a clearer idea of where next this county should take sex education in schools, if anywhere. Sex education is currently stalled between non-existent and abstinence-only.
Take the Survey:
- If you’re a parent with a child in Flagler schools, click here
- If you’re a community member without a child in Flagler schools, click here
- If you’d like to reach Katrina Townsend, the director in charge of the survey, reach her by email here or by phone here: 386/437-7526×2300
- Permission or opt-out Form
- Sex Ed Powerpoint, as Presented to School Board Members
- Sex-Ed in Flagler: School District Prepares to Move Away from Abstinence Only
- Ruth Westheimer’s Website
The adult survey is presented in two groups: to those parents who have children in school, and to those “community members” who don’t. The break-out will enable the school district to have a better idea of what’s driving the answers. A 70 year old reared on Eisenhower-era preconceptions may answer differently than the parent of a 15-year-old girl to whom Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” sounds as tame as a Frank Sinatra ballad, though the questionnaires don’t—unless specified by the participant—ask adults’ age or circumstances. The six questions and one comment box going to adults are similar but not entirely identical in the two groups. The yes-no questions include questions such as:
- I am aware that the Flagler Health Department saw 587 teenagers for “family planning” in 2009 and only 43 of those teens asked to receive condoms.
- I am aware that a 2009 state-wide survey of Florida’s teens, showed that 50.6% of teens were sexually active and of that group, 8% of those teens had their first experience before age 13.
- I am agreeable to have condoms available to children in my community through the school clinics.
Adults are also asked at what grade condoms should be made available, and at what grade sex education should begin to be taught. The parent survey includes a few more questions than the community member survey. Additional questions include: “Do you and your child regularly discuss sex, STDs, teen pregnancy and your expectations?” And a yes-or-no on this: “I am agreeable to have condoms available to my child at his/her school clinic.”
The student survey is 10 questions long. It asks the participant’s age, beginning at age 11, whether the student is sexually active and, if so, three other questions related to sexual activity: When the student began to be sexually active (the first choice: “before age 10”), whether the student used condoms, and if not, why the student didn’t use condoms. Five choices are given for that one: they cost too much, not able to get to the store, too embarrassed to buy them, “I didn’t know I was going to have sex,” and “other.”
Students are also asked in yes-no questions whether they’d take a condom from a school-based clinic if they were available, whether they think schools should teach more about sex and what to do to stay healthy, and at what grade level they think students should be taught about “safer choices about sex.”
Students will have 48 hours to do the survey, at any point during their school day, from any school-based computer. They may also send in hard-copy versions. “I’m anticipating that pretty much every kid is going to be doing it electronically,” says Katrina Townsend, the school district’s director of student services and the lead administrator in the district’s analysis of reforming sex education locally. Townsend is expectting thousands of answers. The fact that most will be provided electronically will make the number crunching much swifter.
The surveys, both to adults and students, are broad rather than specific, Townsend said, because at the moment the district is interested only in finding out if there is wide support or opposition for moving in one direction or another. Should the response be overwhelmingly opposed to more sex education, the district will likely stop moving ahead. Should the response be either indifferent or encouraging, it would move forward, though it’s not a given to what extent it would liberalize sex education, or with what means: the district is cash-strapped and actually planning on huge cuts in teaching and course ranks next year. School board members who have spoken about sex education don’t want gym teachers—or any untrained teacher—to provide it. They want teachers to be prepared and designated. But that approach would require more resources and time, neither of which are at the district’s disposal. The research through the surveys, in sum, may be preparatory ground for changes a year or two in the future, if then.
At the moment, sex education in schools is limited to an abstinence-only curriculum. There’s much less to it than meets the ear. In reality, little to no sex education is provided at any level in school because there’s no time to teach it. When it was taught, if teaching is the right word for it, it was provided as an adjunct sub-subject in health class, but in the most elementary terms. There are no discussions of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, contraceptive choices, the physical and emotional toll of teen-age pregnancy, let alone the occasional emotional toll of teen sex. Nor was the subject presented by teachers trained in the matter.
Overall, the message has been: refrain from sex outside of marriage. The message doesn’t square well with the district’s and the state’s problems with teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Flagler’s rate of teen births, at around 33 births per 1,000 girls per year, is lower than the state’s or the nation’s, but it’s still more than three times to four times that of most western nations, where the rate is below 10. The United States has by far the highest teen birth rate of all western nations, at around 55. It also, generally, has the least scientific, medically relevant sex education curriculum in schools, where the 1990s’ abstinence –only curriculum prevails. The numbers show it isn’t working.