Let's talk about sex

Abstinence-based program up for review in 2006, teens say current class is more like scare tactic

Let's not talk about sex is the message the Moffat County School District is sending students.

An abstinence-based sex education curriculum doesn't seem to be stopping teen-age girls in Moffat County from getting pregnant.

According to some accounts, teen pregnancy is on the rise in Moffat County; especially among former students of the Moffat County High School.

A handful of high school seniors estimated recently that 13 of their peers had become pregnant this school year. A dozen of those students have since dropped out, they said. Last year the school had an enrollment of 775.

"A ton of girls have gotten pregnant this year," said senior Chelsey Schnackenberg. "We all sat around and figured it out one day."

About three years ago, the district switched to abstinence-based sexual education curriculum.

That was largely because it agreed with members of the Board of Education at the time, said Craig Mortensen physical education teacher at the high school.

Mortensen taught health and sex education at the school for one year with the new curriculum that headed toward a "more abstinence-based approach," he said.

Students are required to take a health class, which includes the sex-ed teaching at least once during their high school career.

Still, Mortensen isn't convinced the number of pregnancies at the school is a direct reflection of the school's sex-ed teaching.

"I just don't know, unless you actually quiz those students who are pregnant, (about what they know or don't know about sex)," he said. "I think (students) are being taught sexuality before high school. By the time a student gets to us, all we're doing is reinforcing (abstinence teaching.)"

But about four years ago, a nurse practitioner made regular rounds at the high school educating students about birth control methods, among other forms of sexual education, said Susan Bowler Public Health Nurse Manager of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association (VNA).

The nurse practitioner was told "many times to talk about abstinence," Bowler said.

Yet in 2001, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDHE) reported fewer babies born to some teens than today. Ten babies were born to 18-year-old mothers in Moffat Count and nine babies were born 18-year-olds in 2002.

Bowler said that local teen pregnancies come in waves, a trend she's witnessed through Craig's VNA Family Planning Clinic.

However, the movement may be more noticeable under the microscope of a small community, she said.

"Teen pregnancy, teen sex is out there," she said. "A lot of it is low self-esteem, and not valuing the body. Thanks to our lack of morals, kids are going to have sex."

Bowler said some people don't believe in family planning at all.

On the average, teens entering the Craig clinic tend to be younger than those accessing a duplicate version of the Family Planning Clinic offered by the VNA in Steamboat Springs, Bowler said.

The Family Planning Clinic offers free and reduced birth control and other services in Craig two days a week. It also offers testing for sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV testing and sex education, she said.

Additionally, a Prenatal Plus program through the VNA offers all pregnant women the option of receiving Medicaid insurance.

Bowler thought that abstinence teaching is OK for some teens, but those policies don't connect with all teens.

The school district's health curriculum is up for review every five years -- or in 2006-07, said Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan.

How the district handles its health curriculum isn't reflective of the whim of small group, he said.

"We don't jump up when somebody complains," Sheridan said.

Parents of students at the high school can opt to keep students from the health classes, he said.

But that practice happened rarely on Sheridan's watch while serving as principal at the high school years ago, he said.

Some high school students said they felt the effort to teach sex-ed revolved more around scare tactics than providing real information.

"I think a lot of it has to do with teaching all the diseases and that you'll have sex if you're drinking alcohol or doing drugs," said senior Kaley McLean.

She and her friends echoed: "That's not the case."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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