Don’t shortchange kids

Editorial - May 2005


Since Chicago Parent is aimed at parents of children from birth through middle school, we don’t write much about high school and college issues. But our children will one day be teens and young adults. So issues affecting high schoolers and college students will one day affect them as well.

For that reason, we are writing today about developments in sex education and sports.

First, Illinois high schools.

Public schools are doing a woefully inadequate job of educating our children about the facts of life. We believe parents should be the first and primary source for this information, but not all of us are up to the task. And there are certain facts everyone needs to understand—from how babies are made to how diseases are spread. It is a public health issue, not a morality issue. 

Elacsha Madison, Mayadet Patitucci and Anabel Arguello, all students at Curie Metropolitan High School, polled their 3,000 fellow students to find out what they do and don’t know about sex. “We asked questions like, ‘Can you get pregnant the first time you have sex?’ ” Arguello says. “A lot of them didn’t know the right answer.”

This is no surprise. Sex education isn’t required in Illinois, so it often falls through the cracks.

Into this void have stepped conservatives who want kids to learn little about sex. Some of the “abstinence-only” curricula include no information about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. Worse, some of the curricula does talk about those issues—and provides medically inaccurate information. And taxpayers are paying for it. Since 1996, nearly $1 billion in federal money has been devoted to funding abstinence-only programs.

Legislation pending in Springfield (an amendment to S.B. 457), would offer grants to schools and community organizations to create an alternative: abstinence-first curricula.

The difference? Abstinence-only programs teach: Don’t have sex. Period. Abstinence-first teaches that not having sex is the only sure-fire way to avoid getting pregnant or contracting a sexually-transmitted disease. But it also provides accurate medical information about sex, sexually-transmitted disease, pregnancy and contraception.

The Curie poll found that 60 percent of the students were sexually active by senior year. Meanwhile, 40 percent of Illinois’ new chlamydia and gonorrhea cases are in teens ages 10 to 19, and nearly 19,000 babies are born each year to girls under 19. Makes the whole abstinence-only approach seem a bit ostrich-like, doesn’t it? An abstinence-first curriculum is a necessary step to get kids the information they need.

Still, education isn’t the only way to prevent teen pregnancies. Getting girls involved in sports does it, too, studies show.

But girls’ school-based sports programs could disappear, thanks to the Bush administration.

Title IX of the 1972 Education Act, states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

High schools and universities have three options for proving Title IX compliance, one of which is demonstrating they have enough programs to satisfy the demand.

Under a new U.S. Department of Education plan quietly slipped on to its Web site in March as part of a 177-page “clarification” of the process (we are sure that only the federal government could consider a 177-page report to be clarifying), schools can quantify demand via an e-mail student survey. If girls don’t respond—and who has time to answer those e-mail surveys anyway?—that can be considered proof girls are not interested in sports and the demand is being satisfied.

This cannot be allowed to continue. If it does, chances are when our daughters arrive at high school and college, all those track, lacrosse, swimming and volleyball programs will be gone.

Contact your elected officials. Tell them this is unacceptable and you want more for your daughters.


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