Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on sexual education in schools.
There are a number of issues that have led to South Carolina's inability to meet the state's mandates on sex education.
One of the biggest reasons is outdated materials. School districts are unable to provide updates due to a lack of funding.
According to the report, “A Sterling Opportunity: 25 Years After the Comprehensive Health Education Act,” the materials also directly impact a child's home life. The materials reinforce ideas of what a family should look like, that being a husband-wife household.
Unfortunately, students who come from these households represent only 53 percent of families with children. Because of this, many kids feel embarrassed or shamed of their single-parent or non-biological parent households, according to the report.
“When we talk about harmful curriculums, we've seen a number of things that are harmful to young people,” said Emma Davidson, manager for strategic mobilization at Tell Them S.C. “We were seeing a lot of discrimination that goes into those. They were really focused on the idea of a traditional family. That's 47 percent of kids who are being told that they don't have a traditional family, and that's a very hard thing to hear and understand.”
In Aiken County, all materials must go through a committee before being put in the classroom.
“Whether it is a piece of material, a video clip or anything that one of the teachers has discovered, it has to go through the committee first,” said King Laurence, associate superintendent for instruction of Aiken County Public Schools. “The committee becomes a kind of clearing house that makes sure the material is in line with state law and even the standards, not only in general with the CHEA, but also grade specific. There may be a material that is perfectly fine for 16-year-olds, but we don't want to use it with 10-year-olds. If there's any question about it, typically we say, 'No.'”
Though the CHEA was groundbreaking for its time in 1988, much has changed since that time. Davidson notes that many states don't have something close to the CHEA in place.
Rep. B.R. Skelton of Pickens has introduced legislation to reform the CHEA in the South Carolina House, SC H3435.
“It would be an amendment to the current CHEA, and we've reviewed the bill, and it attacks three very specific issues,” Davidson said. “The compliance issue, which is making sure everyone fills out the paperwork so that we really know what's happening. It also tackles teacher training, which is phenomenal, to make sure teachers get the training they need to have these conversations for young people and that they get training every few years to keep their skills up to date.
“Then he's also taking into account the textbooks and materials and making sure those are medically accurate and updated regularly. Also that there is consistency through all of the districts and that they're all at the same level.”
The standards in the CHEA were updated in 1999, Laurence said, and Aiken County has adapted as needed.
“I don't know if we've really changed, but we have made sure all of our teachers have the knowledge and background they need,” he said. “ ... One thing that we've done, and I've noticed in the proposed changes to the law, is that they've struck the line about male and female students being taught separately. I think they're just getting rid of the requirement, but we've been doing that, and we have elementary schools that didn't have a male teacher, but they wanted someone to teach the boys. So we recruit from other schools or bring in someone with a background that can do it.”
However, the changes that were made previously and will continue to be made are necessary, he said.
“Obviously, over time, our society in general has changed. In '88, we were different from we are now,” Laurence said. “So we deal with a lot more health issues in general. But, certainly, the problems with teen pregnancy and STDs are more obvious to people now. People see it all around them, and we've tried to stay clear with it. I like the way the law and standards are written to make sure we have open conversations with students and that it centers on positive ways to prevent them. We stick to those standards, and when you start deviating from them is when you have problems.”
Going forward, Davidson and Tell Them S.C. hope to continue educating the community.
“We have been holding forums throughout the state, one was in Greenville, one was in Clemson and we have our third in Columbia on Thursday and our fourth in Charleston,” she said. “They are really meant to bring the community together. ... What has been really wonderful is that we've had amazing panelists, and we've been able to broadcast them through our website, Facebook and Ustream.”
To view SC H3435, visit legiscan.com/SC/bill/H3435/2013.
To view and watch broadcasts of Tell Them S.C.'s forums, visit bit.ly/zzPtXi.
More on the CHEA
The Comprehensive Health Education Act was enacted in 1988. Its purpose was to ensure that South Carolina students received an age-appropriate, comprehensive education program developed with community control in compliance with the provisions of the law.
What students are taught:
Grades Kindergarten through Five (elementary school)
• Topics included in comprehensive health education are, among other things: community health, nutrition, personal health, dental health, growth and development and accident prevention.
• Age-appropriate instruction in reproductive health may be included at the discretion of the local school board. Discussion of the methods of contraception before the sixth grade is not permitted.
Grades Six through Eight (middle school)
• Health education MUST include all topics included in grades kindergarten through five in addition to environmental health, substance abuse, mental and emotional health, and reproductive health education. Information on sexually transmitted diseases is to be included.
• The local school board, guided by their local CHEA Advisory Committee may include instruction on family life education or pregnancy prevention.
Grades Nine through Twelve (high school)
•One time during their four years of high school, each student shall receive at least 12 ½ hours (750 minutes) of reproductive health education and pregnancy prevention education as defined above.
Source: South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (teenpregnancysc.org)