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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
MISSISSIPPI: Sex Education Bill Prompts Debate
Molly Parker
February 22, 2010
Clarion Ledger (Jackson) (02.18.10) - Monday, February 22,

Under a bill that passed the House and awaits action in the Senate, Mississippi school boards would be required to adopt a sex education policy by June 30, 2011. HB 837 calls for local boards to select either an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculum. Current state law does not require schools to have such a policy.

"We can no longer shy away from a sensitive topic like this because it's become too important to the future of this state," said Rep. John Mayo (D-Clarksdale), the measure's lead sponsor.

A 2009 CDC report showed Mississippi had the highest teen birth rate in the nation. In 2008, the state had the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea: Rates for those STDs and syphilis among the state's youths were nearly double the US average, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

The bill mandates that abstinence be taught in both tracks as the only sure way to prevent STDs and pregnancies, but it would allow educators to teach proper use of condoms and contraceptives to high school students. Parents would need to sign a permission slip allowing their child to attend the classes, and students would be separated by gender for the lessons. Under either track, age-appropriate discussions would begin as early as kindergarten, said Mayo. The nature of the lessons would mature along with the students, he explained.

Gov. Haley Barbour said recently he has not seen the bill, but generally supports "anything that will reduce illegitimacy. We've got counties where 80 percent of the children are born out of wedlock, don't have a father, and it's a huge problem," he noted.