District changes sex ed standards

Curriculum aims to become more comprehensive, begin lessons earlier

By Kansas Gibler

New sexuality education standards that will build on Kansas standards have been adopted this year in USD 497.

The new standards call for teaching contraceptive methods beyond abstinence, whereas the Kansas standards for health education only recommend abstinence to be taught.

Health teacher Adam Green said he is changing his sex education presentation to fit the new standards for his freshman Health 9 classes.

“I like what’s happening,” Green said. “I think getting more information to students can only be a good thing. What [students] decide to do with that information is completely up to them, but arming kids with tools in their toolbox to use in these situations can only be beneficial.”

The state standards, which USD 497 had been using before this year, said students should understand “the positive and negative influences of family and peers on unhealthy behaviors (e.g., alcoholism, anorexia, sexual activity, etc.)” and can “identify the benefits of abstinence in substance use in sexual behaviors.”

Neither statement mentions contraceptives other than abstinence. The state standards regard sexual activity as an unhealthy behavior and don’t mention contraceptives to protect students who are sexually active.

Schools typically follow state curriculum standards, but they aren’t required to. Those standards may be used as a foundation for districts.

USD 497 is building off of those standards by incorporating the National Sexuality Education Standards.

The national standards require students to graduate high school knowing where to access accurate information about contraceptive methods and STD prevention.

“Options for birth control, how to obtain birth control and education about the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections [should be taught],” said Dr. Loree Cordova, a physician at Watkins Health Services at the University of Kansas. “It seems that students don’t know how prevalent infections are.”

Though Lawrence schools have never had an abstinence-only curriculum, such programs have been shown to be ineffective.

“There’s pretty good medical literature that says that teaching solely abstinence for teenagers is not helpful, and it’s not effective in terms of preventing pregnancy and in terms of changing health habits,” Cordova said.

Cordova finds that the best way to educate high school students on sexuality is to present factual information.

“I think the biggest tip [for sexual education] is just trying to make sure that you’re informed as possible from reliable sources,” she said.

Health teachers have been preparing for this semester’s round of sex ed, starting with gauging how much students already know. The answers to a questionnaire will help the teachers prepare guest speakers for their presentations.

“We present a lot of information to students, but often times we don’t know what it is that they want to know,” Green said. “That is probably the most important part in being able to learn anything, is having an interest in it. It’s important to get student feedback about what they’re interested in so that we can tailor the presentation to that.”

Lawrence Douglas County Health Department nurse Cori Green and school board member Vanessa Sandburn will be leading the conversations as guest speakers in Health 9’s sexual education unit.

Green has visited LHS health classes previously to teach freshman about safe sex and finding their sexual identities.

“This year, we’re going to go to Lawrence High and Free State to be guest speakers, and I think it’s good that all of the kids will be told the same things,” she said

Under the new standards, students will notice some changes.

“They’re going to be talking about something other than just abstinence-only,” Green said. “There’s going to be contraception included in the presentation and education, so that’s a pretty major change.”