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Many California Teens Left Out on Sex Education

New Law May Mean Changes for Schools that Teach Sex Ed

LOS ANGELES, December 1999 — Many of California’s teenagers are being left out when it comes to vital health information, according to a survey released today.

The survey, conducted by Communication Sciences Group for the “Get Real About Teen Pregnancy” campaign, looked at 12 types of curriculum currently available and used by health, family life and sexuality education teachers in California. Most of the curriculum was found lacking in important health information such as reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception.

Assembly Bill 246 (Cunneen/R) which goes into effect on January 1, 2000; mandates new standards for public schools that teach sexuality education. These include requirements that curricula be medically accurate and free of racial and ethnic bias. “It’s time to take a realistic approach to preventing teen pregnancy, and realize that this is a significant health issue,” said Gary L. Yates, President and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation. “Sexuality education is most effective when it provides medically factual information about reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. It is just as important to provide this information in school as it is to provide it in the home.”

While California has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, sexuality education is not required in public schools. Twenty-two other states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide both sexuality and STD/HIV education.

A survey conducted in May by The Field Institute found that more than 84 percent of adults in California believe specific instruction should be provided to young people about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Nearly nine in ten adults support teaching age-appropriate sexuality education in the schools.

Currently 87 percent of the school districts in California offer some sort of sexuality education, but according to survey researchers it is often inconsistent, inaccurate or outdated. They found there are no training requirements for teaching sexuality education in public schools.

Out of 22 sexuality education instructors interviewed recently, 17 of them created and used their own curriculum when teaching sexuality education and almost all of the teachers placed a greater emphasis on abstinence than any other topic. Some teachers reported that they were subject to district and/or school policies that prevented them from including information on topics such as contraception and intercourse in their classes.

“Sexuality education should address human development, relationships, sexual health, sexual behavior, and personal skill development, and should cover all topics from abstinence through contraception and sexually transmitted diseases,” said Monica Rodriguez of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “Too many young people are being denied access to life-saving information.”

Even though teen births have decreased during the past decade, experts agree that there is still work to be done. California continues to lead the nation in overall teen pregnancies with nearly 60,000 babies born to teens last year. The survey was funded by a grant to Deen+Black and conducted in conjunction with the “Get Real About Teen Pregnancy” public education campaign as part of a $60 million, 10-year Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative funded by The California Wellness Foundation. Additional information is available at www.letsgetreal.org

Editor’s Note: A summary of the statewide survey is available at www.letsgetreal.org or by calling 310/453-6540.
Disclaimer: This survey is a statewide sampling and is considered directional, not definitive.

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