Moffat County sex ed not compliant with state law
Teens may be less informed now than in earlier decades
September 27, 2016
Craig — Sex education within the Moffat County schools may not comply with a 2013 Colorado State law.
"The last time the school board discussed this policy — IHAM, family life/sex education — was in April 25, 2013," said Charity Neal, school board secretary, member of the policy review committee and Director of Public Health for Northwest Colorado Health.
That same year Colorado state legislators passed House Bill 1081-13. It was signed into law on May 28 and mandates that, when taught, information about human sexuality must be comprehensive and factual.
The law states that "Colorado youth have a right to receive medically and scientifically accurate information to empower them to make informed decisions that promote their individual physical and mental health and well-being" and then clearly spells out content including "all methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections."
What schools are and are not allowed to teach is also "governed by federal law (NCLB and others), Colorado Academic Standards, Colorado State Statute and MCSD corresponding board of education policy govern the choices the district makes regarding sex education," said School Superintendent Dave Ulrich.
The current district policy still includes references to clauses in the 1990 Comprehensive Health Act that were removed by House Bill 1081-13.
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High teen pregnancy rates are cause for concern
Last year, 39 of the 436 girls living in Moffat County who were between the ages of 15 and 19 fell pregnant, according to information presented by Dr. Eileen Joyce, a women’s health provider and OB/GYN with The Memorial Hospital at Craig, at the parents preview night of a new course on reproductive health being offered for area parents and teens.
One of the presenters, Chandra Lopez-Shue, was 16 when she got pregnant. As a high school junior, two weeks before her 17th birthday she became a single mom.
"I had had a boyfriend for a while, we hadn't really talked about being safe, and I was far to scared to go to my parents, and I didn't know about the resources. I didn't really think it through," she said.
"A pregnancy can result in a live birth, an abortion or a miscarriage," reads the National Campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancies website.
Of the alleged 39 teen pregnancies — projected by Joyce — in 2015, 13 babies were born, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
This means, if Joyce's data was correct, 26 teen pregnancies in Moffat County allegedly ended in miscarriage or abortion.
Joyce was contacted several times by the Craig Daily Press to find out where her data originated, but she did not return calls for comment.
"This is just one indicator of the increased population of at-risk youth and adults in Moffat County," Ulrich said.
In addition to the high rate of teen pregnancies, area providers are also concerned about the level of reproductive knowledge of area teens.
Ken Davis, director of community integration at Northwest Colorado Health, is concerned that Moffat County teens lack a basic understanding of their own anatomy describing experiences of girls with abdominal pain unaware of the location of their ovaries.
Dr. Elise Sullivan, who has a family medical practice through The Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic, reports that she and other area providers have encountered similar incidents in their practices.
Moffat County School District's approach
Sex education in Moffat County schools has given primary emphasis to abstinence by school-aged children, said Karie Fisher, district nurse as reported in the Craig Daily Press.
That approach was mandated in the comprehensive health education act of 1990 but altered by House Bill 1081-13 in 2013, and Moffat County schools do not appear to have kept up. Therefore, the district is not compliant with state law.
Teaching materials used by Craig Middle School include a 2004 video called "Everyone Is Not Doing It," self-produced by Mike Long, a former teacher who is described as one of America's foremost pro-life communicators by Premiere Speakers Bureau, and is a national consultant to Project Reality, an abstinence-education-program provider.
Craig Daily Press staff reviewed the video to learn that Long describes the six pressures that drive teens to have sex, preaches that television companies and musicians are encouraging teens to have sex in order to sell their products and goes so far as to say that these companies are stealing money from teens. He speaks to the risks associated with sex, but information does not go into any depth or detail about pregnancy or STDs.
Despite the social benefits of abstinence-based education, declines in teen pregnancy risk are entirely driven by improved contraceptive use as the levels of teen sexual activity have been essentially unchanged between 2007–2012, found Laura Lindberg and colleagues in a peer-reviewed scientific study published in June by the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"These policies and mindset are not something that the current board has dealt with," Neal said.
Past school administration and students believe that the approach is not as rigorous now as the program provided to students in earlier decades.
"Once a year, sex ed classes were done for an entire week for eighth graders, usually in mid-April," said Roger Little, who retired as principal for the middle school in 1989. "The science teachers, the school nurse and I were on the team for the unit. It was a very thorough and well done approach."
Shirley Balleck, owner of the Flower Mine in Craig, grew up in Moffat County and remembers the sex education class taught in middle school about 45 years ago.
"We were taught sex education in middle school by Mrs. Gardner. She made it informative and somewhat fun," she said. "It’s good to know the facts before they start a relationship. I think the class was very beneficial to me and my classmates."
Teen birth rates in Routt County are generally much lower than in Moffat County and the school district, according to data from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The approach to sex ed by the Steamboat Springs School District differs in that it is mandatory for grades six to eight and community partners assist.
"We have a health class required by all sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students for one quarter every year. A low number of parents opt out, primarily for religious reasons," said Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Jerry Buelter. "We work with Grand Futures, providers, and Americorps 20 year olds to target at-risk kids, provide positive role models, and another adult to guide students."
Community response in Moffat County
Sex education should be a partnership between parents, providers and the school system, "it's not just a school problem, but also a community problem that we need to address as a community," Neal said.
Because teens are so healthy, if parents and the schools are not talking with teens about reproductive health choices, providers may have to fill in the gaps only after a child is pregnant or has contracted a disease, Dr. Sullivan said.
By providing free workshops this month to parents and teens, area health care providers aimed to reduce teen pregnancy rates and improve teen health. The partnership between The Memorial Hospital, Northwest Colorado Health, Advocates Crisis Support and the Yampa Valley Pregnancy Center resulted in a series of classes called "Building a Healthy You."
The school board is expecting a presentation from the group behind “Building a Healthy You” at their October meeting.
"We will always review policy at the recommendation of community, board and staff. I would not be surprised if this is a policy that gets a request for review. It will be up to the board as a whole to decide if we would make any changes," Neal said.
Moffat County School District policies are available for public review on the school district website.
"Jennifer Riley and her team will review the information they have been presenting to the community in their ‘Building a Healthy You’ presentation. They will also share with the board the statistics on teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted illnesses," Ulrich said.