Mississippi Making Progress in Sexuality Education,
But There’s Still A Lot of Work to Be Done
For Immediate Release
February 19, 2014
Contact: Kelsey Van Nice, 212/819-9770, firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, NY. Mississippi First, the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) are pleased to release Sexuality Education in Mississippi: Progress in the Magnolia State, a new report that details the enormous amount of progress made in educating the young people of that state. During the 2012–2013 school year, districts across the state were required to adopt a sexuality education policy and curriculum as a result of the newly passed law HB-999. Schools were allowed to choose between a strict abstinence-only approach and one that provided additional information about contraception and disease prevention called “abstinence-plus.” Of the 151 school districts and four special schools in Mississippi, 81 chose “abstinence-only,” 71 chose “abstinence plus,” and three chose a combined approach.
“This represents great progress in the state,” explained Monica Rodriguez, president and CEO of SIECUS, “prior to HB-999 schools in Mississippi did not have to provide any sexuality education and those that chose to do so had to stick to a very strict abstinence-only approach. We are thrilled that so many schools chose to go with the more expansive curricula and that students in over 70 districts will be learning more about sexuality than they would have without the intervention of concerned advocates and lawmakers.”
It is clear that something needed to change in Mississippi as the state ranks poorly in all indicators of sexual health:
- Mississippi ranks second in the country for both teen pregnancy and teen birth rates. In 2011, for example, there were 50 live births per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19 in Mississippi compared to 31 live births per 1,000 young women nationwide. In fact, 14 percent of all live births in the state are to women under the age of 19.
- In 2011, Mississippi had the second highest rates of both chlamydia and gonorrhea in the country for people of all ages, and the seventh highest rate of syphilis.
- Mississippi also had the seventh highest rate of HIV infection in the nation, and 30 percent of new HIV infections occur in young adults. Moreover, the state ranks second to last in the number of high school students who report having learned about HIV in school.
“Despite overwhelmingly negative sexual health indicators, Mississippi poured millions of federal dollars into failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for nearly a decade. But now we have the chance to work with educators and administrators who want to do more for their students. We are especially excited by the number of schools that have participated in the CHART Initiative,” said Sanford Johnson, the Deputy Director at Mississippi First.
The CHART (Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens) Initiative was developed by Mississippi First in partnership with the Mississippi State Department of Health. To participate in CHART, districts must choose an abstinence-plus policy, implement one of the approved curricula (all of which are age-appropriate and evidenced-based), offer sex education starting no later than seventh grade, and designate a health education specialist to teach the program. In return, the schools receive technical assistance and professional development as well as other resources and tools to help them implement the program free of charge. The CHART Initiative is funded with money from the federal government’s Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). Thirty two school districts chose to participate in the initiative.
While there has been a great deal of progress made in Mississippi in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done. Unfortunately, HB-999 has some glaring limitations. It prohibits male and female students from being taught in the same room which has caused administrative problems for some schools. It prohibits demonstrations of condoms or other contraceptive methods as well as teaching about abortion as a way to end a pregnancy. And, the law requires schools to adopt an opt-in policy which means the school has to receive written permission from parents before a student can participate. Such a policy (which is only in place in three states) creates unnecessary administrative hurdles for schools and may keep young people out of class simply because a permission slip got left in a backpack or lost in a pile of mail.
“Of course, we would like to see all of these restrictions lifted so that there are as few barriers as possible for schools that want to provide their students with evidence-based sexuality education that goes beyond abstinence to teach young people about contraception and disease-prevention. Almost 60 percent of all high school students in Mississippi have already engaged in sexual intercourse. Clearly they need this information,” Rodriguez said.
In addition to recommending that these restrictions be removed, the report suggests that the state increase investment in sexuality education so that HB-999 can be implemented more effectively (despite the mandate, 21 percent of schools reported not having taught sexuality education at all during the 2012-2013 school year). Finally, the report recommends that more school become involved in the CHART initiative.