March 22, 2012 11:35:43 AM
The West Point School District is considering an abstinence-only program for its students, in compliance with a state-mandated directive for all school districts to offer sex education.
The West Point School Board heard the first reading of the proposal Monday night and is expected to approve it at next month's board meeting.
The state legislature passed House Bill 999 in March 2011, giving districts a June 30, 2012 deadline to decide between an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculum.
If West Point passes the abstinence-only curriculum, instructors will promote sexual abstinence until marriage and will not discuss the use of contraceptives or safe sex practices. The abstinence-plus curriculum promotes sexual abstinence until marriage but also provides information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.
The Starkville School District voted 3-1 in October 2011 to approve the abstinence-plus curriculum. The Columbus Municipal School District approved the abstinence-plus curriculum this month.
The Oktibbeha County School District will discuss the issue during an administrative meeting Monday night, according to Asst. Superintendent Jerome Smith.
Parents must give consent for their child to participate in either curriculum, and boys and girls will attend separate, age-specific classes for high-schoolers. The bill prohibits "any teaching that abortion can be used to prevent the birth of a baby."
The bill also requires the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and the Mississippi Department of Education to create a teen pregnancy task force in counties with high numbers of teen pregnancies.
There were approximately 7,078 live births to mothers between the ages of 10 and 19 in 2009, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. The statistic ranked Mississippi as No. 1 in the nation for the highest number of teen pregnancies.
Although some form of sex education has been part of many health and/or physical education classes, the new state law marks a change in that districts are now required to teach it. Previously, schools could teach abstinence, but more comprehensive classes required school board approval, and it was not a required part of the curriculum.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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