Clarion Ledger (Jackson) (12.20.12)
The three Greenwood, Miss.-area school districts opted for an abstinence-plus sex education curriculum, but according to Jennifer Wilson, the Greenwood Public Schools interim school superintendent, only two of the three schools in the school districts—The Carroll and Leflore County schools—are teaching curricula that include discussion of contraception. The Greenwood Public Schools do not include contraception in their abstinence-plus program. Wilson explained that abstinence-plus was adopted to enable the district to teach about STDs, not contraceptives.
Shalonda Matthews, division director for HIV, STD and Teen Pregnancy Prevention for the Mississippi Department of Education, stated that an abstinence-plus curriculum must include some discussion of contraception. She said that school districts have been instructed on what was supposed to be included in the curriculum.
Greenwood Public Schools implemented an abstinence-plus policy called “Choosing the Best.” The “Choosing the Best” website states that numerous contraceptive methods are discussed with complete information about the effectiveness and limitations of each with respect to pregnancy and STDs.
The crux of the problem seems to be whether a curriculum that does not include a discussion of contraceptives is really abstinence-plus, and this seems to be contingent on the interpretation of the law passed in 2011. The law requires all Mississippi school districts to offer some kind of sex education beginning with the current academic year. It lists seven components and states that an abstinence-only curriculum may include whatever components of the list are deemed appropriate to the school district, and an abstinence-plus program must include all components of the list. In the list, the two references to contraceptives are “The teaching of abstinence as the only way to avoid pregnancy, STDs, and related health problems. The instruction may include a discussion of condoms or contraceptives, but only if that discussion includes a factual presentation of: the risks and failures of those contraceptives; the teaching of state law related to sexual conduct; the teaching that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the healthiest option.”
Wilson argues that because the law specifies that the instruction “may” include a discussion of contraceptives, that component is not necessary for a curriculum to be considered abstinence-plus; it is optional. Matthews disagrees with this view and maintains that abstinence-plus includes contraceptives.
Personnel in the other two districts where they teach contraception agreed with Matthews. Cassandra Taylor, Leflore County Schools nurse responsible for implementing the abstinence-plus program for that district, reasoned that the goal of the program is to protect students by offering as much education as possible about sex. She felt it was important for the children to know how to protect themselves because they are having sex. Taylor maintained that abstinence will be taught as the primary mode of preventing pregnancy, HIV, and other STDs, but that teaching only abstinence is a disservice to the children. Billy Joe Ferguson, superintendent of the Carroll County Schools, added that his district was already teaching an abstinence-plus program that included contraceptives. He said that they try to be realistic and that he saw part of his role as having kids really be prepared to face the real world.