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Mon, March 18

Money guides schools' levels of sex education

My thanks to Robert Browning, a member of the Chino Valley School Board, for his article about teenage pregnancy in Chino Valley.

This was in response to a feature story about teen pregnancy in the tri-city area and my column offering some thoughts about it.

Mr. Browning mainly said that the statistics can be interpreted in different ways, and comparing pregnancy rates and birth rates by age and community is confusing. I agree, but the main point is clear enough: teen pregnancy rates are high and getting higher.

It's also true that Chino Valley consistently has the highest rate among the tri-cities -- 18 percent of births by Chino residents were by teenagers last year, compared with 14 percent in Prescott Valley and 10 percent in Prescott.

Another good point Browning made is about the kids saying "We don't have anything else to do!" Of course they have plenty of things to do other than sex. That's just an excuse – like saying "but everybody else does it" when you tell a teenager he can't do something.

On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt if the CV school board and city council gave more thought to after-school activities in the community.

What interests me is the relationship between teen pregnancy and sex education in the schools. Remember: Chino Valley had an 18 percent rate last year, Prescott Valley 14, and Prescott 10. Guess who teaches the most sex-ed.

Browning says that all three school districts teach it, and that's true – but there's a difference. Prescott teaches age-appropriate sex-ed in grades 5 through 12. The other two districts teach an "abstinence only" program for six hours in grades 7 through 9. Sex-ed used to stop after ninth grade in Prescott also but the students themselves went to the school board and got it extended.

Sonya Molique, the school nurse for HUSD (Prescott Valley), said that the state pays for their program limits it to teaching abstinence. There's one small exception: she can mention condoms but only to say that they are not totally reliable. Each child who gets this instruction must have written approval from home. Some parents think it's wrong to talk about sex in school and won't sign.

I certainly agree that abstinence is best for teenagers – absolutely – 100 percent. Probably all adults feel that way, but let's face it, folks, the adults are not in control here.

It's the kids who decide whether to experiment with sex, and everyone knows that kids do not always follow their parents' wishes.

I asked Mrs. Molique what the state allows her to say if a student asks a question about birth control or preventing sexually transmitted disease other than abstinence. Her answer: if it's something specific she might ask the child to discuss it with her after class; otherwise, she tells them to go ask the county Health Department. If she were to say the wrong thing, it could jeopardize the money for abstinence only.

Even so, she would like to see their program extended to include grades 10 through 12. At this age the students' interests and attitudes change yearly, and they start asking "what-if" type questions. They need reliable information, not street talk. After all, actions have consequences, and some consequences can be life-shattering.

My earlier column suggested that churches teach safe sex and dispense condoms in Sunday School – along with appropriate spiritual guidance which the public schools aren't allowed to give. That suggestion was tongue-in-cheek, designed to stimulate thinking and discussion, but amazingly there has not been one word of reproach, only complimentary phone calls.

Does this mean that everyone agrees?

Or does anyone care?

(Al Herron is a former hospital administrator, and current Prescott resident.)

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