Legislation would update SC's sex-education law

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMay 17, 2014 

A presenter with the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy talks to students at Whale Branch Early College High School on Wednesday. May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. The group's presentation is part of a regional tour to augment the Beaufort County School District's reproductive health program.

STAFF PHOTO

More than 25 years and 250,000 teen pregnancies after South Carolina's first sex-education law was passed, many legislators say it needs an update.

A bill aimed at reforming and strengthening the law is working its way through the General Assembly. If passed, it could force some school districts to make major changes.

For example, districts could have to change some of their materials to ensure they are medically accurate. And many will have to make the curriculum available to parents so they can decide whether their children should opt out.

The proposed changes, however, won't have much effect on the Beaufort County School District.

Its recently revamped curriculum will meet most, if not all, of the new state standards, according to chief student services officer Gregory McCord.

"The teachers feel the curriculum we are using now is relevant to what students are actually facing, and the students feel it is information they will actually use in making their decisions," said district official Shelia Wiley, who has been instrumental in updating the county's program.

When the state's law was passed in 1988, it was one of the nation's first to bring sex education into the schools, according to Emma Davidson, associate director for strategic mobilization at New Morning Foundation, a Columbia-based family-planning advocacy group.

But the law has not been updated since, and about three in every four school districts in South Carolina do not comply with it, according to a 2013 study by New Morning Foundation.

THE PROPOSED CHANGES

South Carolina's teen birth rate continues to fall. In 2012, it was at an all-time low of 36.5 births per 1,000 among those ages 15 to 19, but that number is still the nation's 12th highest.

"Many legislators saw the need for change," Davidson said. "They want to make sure we are holding districts to a level of quality and accuracy in their sex education."

The bill passed the S.C. House of Representatives with bipartisan support April 29 and the Senate's K-12 Education subcommittee Thursday.

There are three major changes in the legislation.

First, it institutes a financial penalty for noncompliance.

Second, it also requires all materials to be medically accurate, which is not currently required.

Finally, all materials should be available to parents.

Those aspects are already part of Beaufort County schools' program, McCord said.

Seventh- and eighth-graders are taught through a program called "It's Your Game, Keep it Real!" that emphasizes abstinence.

High school students participate in the Safer Choices program, which teaches abstinence as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. It also emphasizes contraception for reducing risks for students who decide to have sex.

The S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has recognized Beaufort County as a top-tier district for its sex education.

"The more accurate information and education they have about their sexuality, the better and safer decisions they'll make," Wiley said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

SC, Beaufort County teen birthrates fall again, January 22, 2013

Fewer teen moms in Beaufort County, but they're getting younger, January 24, 2012

County joins program to prevent teen pregnancy, March 7, 2011

S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy - Beaufort County Data

New Morning Foundation

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