Lawrence adopts national sex education standards

In the past, during the sex education unit, health teachers in the district lectured students on male and female anatomy, explaining how to prevent STDs and emphasizing the importance of abstinence in maintaining personal reproductive health.

However, for current freshman taking Health 9, the reproductive health unit will look a little different.

“We’re going to get some nurses involved,” health teacher David Lawrence said. “I think this year we are going to go a little more into detail about contraceptives and maybe actually have some there to show them.”

Starting this year and continuing the next six years, the Teaching and Learning department will be integrating new sex education standards into health curriculum, K-12. While the new standards will still teach abstinence, they will also include comprehensive information on “decision-making to avoid a pregnancy” and “skills for understanding and avoiding STDs and HIV.”

“These standards will support a curriculum that better meets our Sexuality Education Policy of providing medically-accurate, evidence-based sexuality education that meets the needs of our diverse student body,” said Vanessa Sanburn, school board vice president.

The standards will not only include information on preventing pregnancy and STIs, but concepts such as identity and healthy relationships. Identity will focus on students learning to “distinguish between sexual orientation, sexual behavior and sexual identity.”

The biggest difference between the old standards and the new is that abstinence will no longer be taught as the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs. Instead, the curriculum will teach something known as “Abstinence Plus.”

By the end of senior year, students are supposed to be able to “compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of abstinence and other contraceptive methods, including condoms,” according to the new standards. Students will also be taught how to use a condom correctly.

The new standards will put a larger emphasis on safe sex, prevention of STIs and access to local STI testing and treatment. Teaching communication with partners about STI status will be a key component in the curriculum.

For sophomore Sophia Swanson, this seems like a decent idea.

“I think they should teach contraception because, I mean, they can’t really keep you from having sex,” Swanson said. “They can teach you to be safe and to be healthy.”

Sanburn sees the new standards as necessary for the sexual health of students in the district.

“Statistically, most teens will have sex before they graduate high school,” Sanburn said. “Making sure that students have information about the variety of options to avoid unintended pregnancy and STIs is important.”

Jeffrey Moran, author of Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century, believes that teaching contraception is key to preventing teenage pregnancy as well as STIs.

“Abstinence has a place in this scheme of sexuality education, but abstinence-only education has little positive impact on teenage sexual behavior and sometimes leaves students unprepared for the very real choices they must make in their sexual lives,” Moran said.

Some members of the community oppose the new curriculum because of conflicting beliefs regarding some of its slightly more controversial content.

“I think abstinence should be taught because that’s just what I believe in,” freshman Logan Sinclair said. “Birth control doesn’t necessarily work all the time so it’s safer to just not have sex.”

Parents are allowed to opt-out their children from learning certain portions of the curriculum if they feel that it violates their beliefs.

Overall, the hope is that the new standards will better encompass the diverse student population.

“We’ve had anti-discrimination policies for quite some time, so it only makes sense that all students should be represented in the curriculum and instruction delivered in our classroom,” Sanburn said.