Mississippi Senate OKs version of sex ed bill

By Shelia Byrd/The Assocated Press

JACKSON — A sex education bill approved Thursday in the Mississippi Senate would ban school officials from demonstrating how to use condoms and require parental permission before students can be in the class.

The Senate voted to change a House bill to add those provisions, as well requiring schools that choose to teach more than abstinence to include information about the risk and failure rates of contraceptives.

Under the bill, districts must choose to teach either abstinence or “abstinence plus,” which includes health information about contraceptives. Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, said the bill also requires that students are separated by gender in the classes.

The bill now goes back to the House for more work. But House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said he doesn’t expect much opposition to the proposal in his chamber.

“I’m going to talk to our folks about it. I suspect we’ll concur. I don’t want to risk the bill failing,” Brown said Thursday.

For years, lawmakers have contentiously debated over bills for a stronger sex education law in Mississippi, which has some of the nation’s highest teen pregnancy, gonorrhea and chlamydia rates. Under current law, school districts are not mandated to teach comprehensive sex education or abstinence. However, districts do have the option to teach abstinence. If districts want to teach more than abstinence, they must receive school board approval.

Many conservative lawmakers in the Bible Belt state have contended in the past that sex should be discussed at home, not in class. But Yancey said too many unmarried young people get pregnant in Mississippi each year.

“We want children our children to grow up in loving homes. We want children to grow up without having two strikes against them already,” Yancey said referring to children born to teens.

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, disagreed with the provision that students be separated by gender in sex education classes. Jordan, a former chemistry teacher, said students study the reproductive system in biology class together.

Yancey said the provision was included to prevent embarrassing situations that might make students uncomfortable to discuss the subject in front of the opposite sex.

“I don’t see anything so embarrassing that we can’t talk about the only procedure by which human beings can be born,” Jordan said.

***

The bill is House Bill 999.