Tupelo schools to continue abstinence-only sex education

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo Public School District tweaked its sex-education policy on Tuesday to keep it in line with a new state law.
The law, signed by then-Gov. Haley Barbour in 2011, requires all districts in the state to teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education courses. Districts have until June 30 to decide.
Tupelo’s School Board voted at Tuesday’s regular meeting to continue teaching abstinence-only sex education, as it has been doing since at least 2000. The board adopted a few minor changes in the existing policy to match the language in House Bill 999.
The reason Tupelo chose the abstinence-only route is that it allows greater flexibility, Interim Superintendent David Meadows said.
The option says districts may teach several items, such as the benefits of abstaining from sexual activity, the consequences of not abstaining, the harmful consequences of bearing a child out of wedlock and the inappropriateness of unwanted sexual advances.
The abstinence-plus policy says districts must teach each of those points.
Meadows said the district has been satisfied with the abstinence-only policy it has had in place.
“We believe we can still do everything in the abstinence-plus policy, if we so choose,” he said. “It gives us the most flexibility.”
Both options allow districts to include information on condoms and contraceptives but require them to include facts about their risks and failure rates. Abstinence-plus policies have more leeway to discuss contraceptives and sexually-transmitted diseases.
Tupelo will continue to implement the policy in the seventh-grade, although it could also teach the course in other grades. Last year, Tupelo Schools also piloted a sex-education course in freshman health classes.
Parents must provide their permission for students to enroll in the class. Last year, more than 95 percent of Tupelo seventh-graders elected to participate in the class taught by trained volunteers from Parkgate Pregnancy Clinic.
The five-day curriculum included a discussion of goals and dreams, myths perpetuated by the culture about relationships, anatomy, sexually-transmitted disease and the consequences of teen pregnancy, among other things.
Boys and girls are separated for the classes.
The Lee County School District has also adopted an abstinence-only policy. Districts will be able to choose from curriculum approved by the Mississippi Department of Education.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com