By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Almost 45 percent of Mississippi high school students had engaged in sex during the previous three months and nearly 76 percent of high school seniors have had sex at least once, according to a 2009 state Department of Health survey.
Based on the anonymous survey, Mississippi ranked well above the national average in various areas related to teen sex and pregnancy.
Mississippi is first in teen birth rate and is at the top, or near the top, in the instances of sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.
State Medical Officer Mary Currier provided those statistics and other sobering information to a joint meeting of the House Education and Public Health committees Wednesday at the state Capitol.
“Teen pregnancy is a huge public health issue,” Currier said, citing the higher risks for teen mothers and their children.
The high teen birth rate is one reason Mississippi has the nation’s highest infant mortality rate.
The committees are looking at possible legislation to deal with the issue. Last year the House passed legislation to mandate school districts provide some type of education to deal with the issue. Under the legislation they could provide abstinence-only courses, abstinence-plus course or other types of sex education courses.
The legislation died in the Senate.
Some of the panelists who spoke Wednesday advocated teaching abstinence-only and said research indicated such courses were the most effective.
“Teaching risk avoidance is the best message for our children,” said Freda Bush, a Jackson-based physician.
Others, including Currier, indicated that an abstinence-only approach would miss students who are already having sex and, research indicates, would continue to have sex.
Under current law, a district has the option to teach a program. If a district teaches abstinence-plus or a sex education class, it must submit that lesson plan to the state Department of Education. Less than five of the 152 school districts have done so.
Shane McNeil, with the healthy schools division of the state Department of Education, said districts that teach abstinence-only do not have to submit their lesson plan so he did not know how many districts were doing so.
The legislation the House passed last year would give the local school districts the option of what to teach, but they would be mandated to develop some type of program.
The House is expected to take up similar legislation this year.