Testimony on D.C. Public Schools Sex Education
by Moira Gaul, M.P.H.
In the summer of 2007, the District of Columbia introduced new public school "health standards" for elementary through high school students. On November 28, the D.C. School Board held a public hearing in which over 30 public health professionals, teachers, and parents provided testimony regarding the proposed standards. In addition to the following statement by Moira Gaul, a pastor of a congregation in D.C. who is affiliated with the Family Research Council also provided testimony. On December 14, the Washington Times reported that "Board members revised the standards after a public meeting on Nov. 28, in part to place a greater emphasis on abstinence education."
November 30, 2007
Re: Comments on the Washington, D.C. Public Schools draft of "Health Learning Standards" for all students.
Dear School Board Members,
My name is Moira Gaul and I am the director for women's and reproductive health at the Family Research Council here in Washington, D.C. The Family Research Council is a pro-family public policy organization involved on the federal, state, and local levels. I have a Masters in Public Health degree, with an emphasis in maternal and child health, and I work in policy areas to promote optimal healthy outcomes for women and children, as well as to strengthen families. In addition, I have also worked for three years with District youth in several faith-based programs.
The Family Research Council opposes the proposed D.C. public schools health standards in their current form. There are five specific standards we have identified as particularly problematic. These five standards are listed at the conclusion of this letter.
Within the overall standards, values are introduced that are not acceptable to many parents of children being served in the District of Columbia. For example, the promotion of contraception to 7th grade students, and the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity beginning in 6th grade are completely unacceptable to many District parents. These standards do not adequately reflect the values of parents and families that the D.C. school system serves.
The proposed standards lack an approach in sexuality education that seeks the best health outcomes for our youth by encouraging them to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
Pre-marital adolescent sex has been associated with a number of negative behavioral outcomes including: poor academic performance, substance abuse, mental health problems and illness, as well as increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) and out-of-wedlock child bearing. Pre-marital adolescent sex, heterosexual or homosexual, is by definition, high-risk behavior. The practice of sexual abstinence for youth is the best form of prevention against HIV infection, other STD's, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
Abstinence education provides youth with the right skills necessary to successfully practice the behavior. Based on sound behavior change theory, abstinence-focused education provides youth with the skills necessary to avoid sexual activity, build character, and develop healthy relationships. It promotes optimal physical and psycho-social health in youth. Contraception focused education is a simplistic risk reduction strategy with a "physical health only" approach. The abstinence education approach, in contrast, is a multidimensional, holistic health, risk avoidance form of prevention which addresses mental, emotional, and physical health. D.C. youth deserve this support to make the best choice for their current health, future health, and future reproductive health.
We would urge the School Board to review a 2004 study by the Heritage Foundation, "Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula." In this study, content or quantitative analysis was performed on nine major comprehensive sex education/"abstinence plus" curricula and nine major authentic abstinence programs. The results showed that authentic abstinence programs devoted 53 percent of page content to abstinence-related material, and 17 percent to subjects of healthy relationships and marriage. In contrast, the comprehensive curricula devoted 4.7 percent of page content to abstinence, and zero percent to healthy relationships and marriage.
Additionally, this risk avoidance or abstinence approach is mutually reinforcing across youth high-risk behaviors (concerning alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, and violence). Currently in the health standards a uniform risk avoidance message is emphasized to youth concerning alcohol, tobacco and drug use, and violence. The science shows adolescent risk behaviors are so interconnected that to be effective in guiding youth away from one major risk behavior, all major risk behaviors, including sexual risk taking, must be addressed.
Parents also prefer abstinence until marriage as the best form of prevention for their children. A recent 2007 Zogby poll showed that 83 percent of parents think it is important for their child to wait until they are married to have sex; 78 percent of parents think sex education classes in public schools should place more emphasis on promoting abstinence than on condom and other contraceptive use; and 93 percent of parents agree sex education should include a discussion about the limitations of condoms in preventing specific STD's.
One example of intensive, successful abstinence-focused programming is Best Friends in Washington, D.C. An independent study of this program was published in the peer-reviewed journal Adolescent and Family Health in 2005. The young women who participate in the program are called "Diamond Girls," and they hail from some of the District's toughest wards. Study author Robert Lerner, Ph.D., found that the Diamond Girls "are substantially less likely to smoke, drink, take illegal drugs, and have sex than a comparable sample" of youth in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's surveys. The finding of the study that Diamond Girls are 120 times more likely to abstain from sex than their peers "is a result so strong that it is unheard of in practically any empirical research." Programs like Best Friends are succeeding because they aim high and sell no one short.
We are also strongly opposed to the promotion of abortion to 9th graders as specified in the draft standards. The abortion rate for school-aged girls in the District of Columbia is one of the highest in the nation. The D.C. public schools should not be lending support to the perpetuation of this destructive trend which harms girls' and women's health. Studies analyzing the effects of induced abortion in adolescents have shown that, when compared to adolescents who give birth, those who abort reported more frequent problems sleeping, more frequent marijuana use, and increased need for psychological counseling (Coleman, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2005).
In addition, the standards need to emphasize healthy family formation, including a two-parent family where the marriage of one man and one woman is promoted as the best parenting structure for children, and where the best outcomes for children have been established repeatedly in the social science research. Healthy marriage components need to be introduced to students also to aid in the building of strong future families.
Lastly, we would recommend that interventions include parental components to increase overall impact.
Thank you for your attention to this vitally important matter.
Moira Gaul M.P.H.
Director of Women's and Reproductive Health
The Family Research Council
Excerpted from: District of Columbia Proposed Health Standards (draft)
Sexuality, Reproduction, and Health
6.1.6 Explain that people, regardless of biological sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and culture, have sexual feeling and the need for love, affection and physical intimacy.
Sexuality, Reproduction, and Health
7.1.7 Analyze the social, cultural, religious, and legal factors that influence the choice and use of contraception; and discuss the importance of consistent and effective contraceptive use.
Sexuality, Reproduction, and Health
8/1.5 Define sexual orientation, using correct terminology, and explain that as people grow and develop, they may begin to feel romantically and or sexually attracted to people of a different gender and/or to people of the same gender
8.1.6 Compare and contrast the theories about what determines sexual orientation including genetics; prenatal, social, and cultural influences; psychosocial factors; and a combination of all of these.
Human Growth and Development
9.1.5 Analyze trends in teen pregnancy rates, teen births, contraceptive practices and the availability of abortion
Moira Gaul is director of women's and reproductive health at the Family Research Council. She has a Master of Public Health degree in maternal and child health.