San Marcos CISD Trustees Margie Villalpando, left, and David Castillo, right, during a discussion last week about sex education in the district’s middle schools and high schools. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos CISD trustees may adopt a new sex education policy at their July 19 meeting.
The board may approve or reject “abstinence plus” curricula for the district’s middle school and high school students. The goal of the abstinence plus program is to reduce the number of students who have sexual intercourse and increase condom use among those who have sex.
The proposed curricula also teaches “refusal skills.” Advocates for the proposed curricula say students with strong refusal skills are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as alcohol use and smoking, which the proposed curricula also discourage.
The district currently uses an “abstinence only” curriculum called “Worth the Wait” for grades 6-8 and high school. Although the district uses the program, San Marcos CISD Director of Curriculum and Instruction Pam Guettner said sex education “has probably not been taught very often.”
Guettner said sex education is not in the high school’s master schedule and teachers find it awkward to teach.
The abstinence plus program proposed for middle schools, called “Draw the Line/Respect the Line,” was suggested by Texas State, which offered to apply for a $3 million grant to fund the program. Funding would exist for five years and be used to train San Marcos CISD staff to maintain the program indefinitely. Each set of course materials would cost the district $56.
Texas State would use the federal grant money to hire two sex education instructors, who would be based at the university and be available at middle schools after normal class hours to answer student questions. If trustees approve Draw the Line/Respect the Line, it would be administered as a pilot program sometime in 2010-11 and the district would fully implement the curriculum in 2011.
The abstinence plus program proposed for high school students is called “Big Decisions.” On May 27, the district’s School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) recommended switching to abstinence plus curricula, and a district ad hoc committee of about 20 parents, clergy, other community members and staff supported abstinence plus.
Whether trustees choose to stick with the abstinence only curriculum or adopt abstinence plus, the district will begin a new policy of offering sex education year-round. San Marcos High School will teach sex education throughout the year beginning in September, and the middle schools are developing master schedules to provide sex education throughout the year.
Guettner and other district officials said the district will not lose any federal funding if it adopts abstinence plus.
If the district were to adopt full disclosure sex education curricula, it would lose some full federal funding.
“I think that research nationwide supports the (conclusion that) there’s the need for abstinence plus,” said San Marcos High School Principal Michelle Darling.
Darling said enrollment at the high school has been constant for a few years.
“And likewise, the pregnancy rate has been pretty constant also,” Darling said. “It feels like it’s too high, and it’s stayed the same. It’s not going up, but it’s not going down, either.”
Guettner told trustees that data she read indicate that 52 percent of older students throughout Texas are sexually active.
Texas State Associate Professor of Family and Consumer Sciences Ani Yazedjian told the board that a recent survey by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that 43.6 percent of youth in Texas did not use a condom during their last sexual encounters.
Trustee Jesse Ponce expressed skepticism regarding the effectiveness of abstinence plus. Trustee David Castillo voiced strong opposition to abstinence plus.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to save every soul — that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” Castillo said. “A lot of us aren’t educated in this. A lot of us don’t have the same morals and values that you have. It’s time that we changed that and look at life as precious and everything else and stop maybe looking at statistics at times, and look at individuals, families, the community and everything else. But I’m sorry — here, as far as this is concerned, I think we have it all wrong. Whether I get out-voted or not doesn’t matter to me, but I do know this — when I get judged, I tried to do what was right and the betterment of our community.”
Trustees President Judy Allen and Trustee John Crowley, favored adopting abstinence plus as soon as possible. The board considered simply staying with its current abstinence only curriculum and finding better ways to teach it.
“The SHAC committee did have community members, and they approved moving from abstinence only to abstinence plus,” Allen said. “If we keep studying it, we’re going to keep having sexually active students and babies being produced and STDs. I think if we’re going to make a change, I’m advocating that we need to do it so that we can start getting some of this accurate information out there to students instead of waiting. Sometimes in education I’m amazed at how slow things move, and I think it’s time for us to begin to think about the health and the well-being of the students, so if we’re going to do it, we need to move so that it will be effective this year.”
Castillo and Ponce said board members should have more information about the success and failure rates of abstinence only versus abstinence plus. Castillo said he doubted whether any clergy representing his religious views were included in the ad hoc committee.
“I’ve read a lot of (literature), hear a lot, listen to certain radio stations and things like that, and they’re totally anti-this (abstinence plus),” Castillo said.
Crowley expressed respect for Castillo’s comments, but said, “the reality is, is kids don’t always make the best decisions.” Crowley said he is not in favor of dispensing condoms and telling kids where they can get contraceptives, but said the district should be providing information about such matters, and should be telling kids where to get professional help from health care providers.
“Many studies have found that abstinence only sex education is not effective in changing students’ behaviors, particularly in terms of increasing contraceptive use or the use of condoms,” Yazedjian said. “So there is a relationship, in that sense, that if kids aren’t protecting themselves, they’re more likely to get pregnancy and contract (STDs). The State of Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy and teen birthrates in the country — they are number three. And most of the State of Texas is abstinence only, so you can draw your own conclusions. And they also have high rates of STDs, as well.”