Monday, April 8, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
Over the past decade as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, I have heard countless stories from parents who struggle having “the talk” with their teens. Through the work of PPSN’s Responsible Sex Education Institute, I also hear stories from teachers and principals about wanting more support to equip students with appropriate information about sexual health. And from the many teens our educators speak to on a weekly and daily basis, we know that teens are curious — they want real answers and real information about sexual health and what’s going on with their bodies.
Sex education is required in Nevada schools, but the curriculum is outdated and failing to meet the needs of our state’s youths.
Sadly, that’s reflected in our state’s statistics on teen pregnancy and STDs. Nevada has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. There were over 7,000 teen pregnancies in Nevada in 2008. Just this week, a study showed that Nevada ranks among the top eight states for rapid repeat teen pregnancy. It also ranks 16th-highest for new HIV infections ages 13-29. We can do better.
Thankfully, members of the Legislature, led by Assemblyman David Bobzien, are taking proactive steps to strengthen our state law through the introduction of AB230. Supported by PPSN and Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates (NAPPA), the proposed legislation would require that all school districts offer a comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sexual health curriculum.
AB230 will specifically define core components that must be included in sexual health curricula. For example, the term “comprehensive” will be fully defined as “age-appropriate” and “culturally sensitive.” The latter will ensure that sexual health information that denigrates gay and transgender youths, as well as religious youths, will not be permitted. AB230 maintains local control for school districts and counties to make decisions about the curriculum and all materials that are used in the classroom. Parents maintain the ability to opt their student out of sex education (with no penalty) if they teach sex ed at home. Parental involvement is a key component of this bill and is an essential part of any good comprehensive sexual education program.
This bill will not cost our state money to implement because the school districts are required to update their curricula on this topic regularly. AB230 will actually save Nevada money. In 2008 alone, births from teen parents cost the state $84 million. Being a teen parent is a primary reason adolescent women drop out of school — we must not overlook or underestimate the link between educational success and teen pregnancy.
It is imperative that we pass AB230; and we know comprehensive sex education works. Sexuality education that is evidence-based, medically accurate, age-appropriate and comprehensive has been proven to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies, increase use of contraception, delay the start of sexual interactions and help decrease the number of STDs. By not providing students with the proper, comprehensive sexuality education they need, we, as adults and educators, are failing them. While it is expected of our students to succeed in reading, writing and math in order to graduate, medically accurate, potentially life-saving information about sexual health education remains optional for schools and is often removed from curricula.
Parents also overwhelmingly support school-based sex education programs and believe that school-based programs should cover a range of topics, including birth control. According to a survey by Planned Parenthood, Family Circle Magazine, the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, 93 percent of parents believe birth control should be covered in high school sex-ed programs, and 78 percent believe this information should be provided in middle school. Over 95 percent of parents said STDs should be covered in both middle and high school programs.
I look forward to working with our coalition partners in the next few weeks as the bill moves forward. I am optimistic that everyone can put aside any political differences and look at this issue from a public health standpoint. I think we can all agree that reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates should and can be a common goal.
Vicki Cowart is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada.