Sex Ed.: What's Being Taught?

COLUMBUS, GA - Juno is a movie that follow the challenges facing a pregnant teen, and it is a reality for thousands of teenagers across the country.

27-year-old Lakeia Whatley says she was one of them. At 15-years-old, Whatley found out she was pregnant and gave birth to a little girl when she was 16.

"I pretty much lost everything. I had to get a GED. I had to get a job at 15," said Whatley.

With her daughter entering the 6th grade next year, Whatley plans on being extremely open with her and wants the school system to do the same with sex education.

"Go into detail. Tell them everything from the kiss to everything. Don't leave anything out," said Whatley.

Sex education has been a source of controversy for decades, but it has been shoved into the spotlight in recent months after nationwide media coverage showed for almost two years some New York City schools have been providing birth control and even the so-called morning after pill to some girls as young as 14-years-old whose parents did not an sign opt out form from their pregnancy-prevention program.

"It's very appalling. You know, I can't imagine that my own child would, if given the choice, would do something like that," said Columbus mother, Cheryl Swanier.

Swanier is a mother of four kids and cannot imagine having a policy like the one in New York City Schools in schools here.

"Quite frankly, I don't know how I would respond," said Swanier.

According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, only 35 states and the District of Columbia have laws mandating school districts must have some form of sex or HIV education.

Georgia is included in that list.

"The state of Georgia adopted an abstinence focused type of curriculum. What that is, we do promote abstinence which is waiting until you are a long-term, faithful, committed relationship when you are older," said Lisa Roberts with the Health and Fitness Instructional Specialist with the Muscogee County School District.

Roberts says in Columbus sex education is part of the health curriculum and begins when students reach middle school.

"We look in all three grades at learning how to believe in yourself and standing up for yourself and getting away from unhealthy relationships," said Roberts.

Using a curriculum called Choosing the Best, Roberts says what is covered in each grade varies a bit. It progresses from only lightly touching on pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases to talking about why teenagers may become sexually active and negative influences like alcohol.

Then, the subjects are more in-depth in high school.

"It is looking at more disease prevention. It's looking at the HIV and aids rate with teenagers," said Roberts.

Roberts explains the district follows the Georgia Performance Standards for both high school and middle school. It is also a state requirement that each district have a sex education advisory committee to approve the curriculum in the schools, and parents can choose to not allow their child to participate.

"If you choose to be sexually active then there is the possibility that sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy could occur. Contraception may help, but they are not a guarantee," said Roberts.

Alabama law also requires schools have sex and HIV education as part of the curriculum in the classroom. Auburn City Schools Superintendent Karen DeLano says they follow state standards and start in 5th grade continuing through 12th grade.

"We want our students to understand the emotional consequences that come with choices when they are thinking about sexual activity," said DeLano.

DeLano says Alabama puts a strong emphasis on abstinence, overall wellness, and also allows parents to have their kids opt out.

"We do want to make sure they understand that these are life choices that can affect them for the remainder of their lives," said DeLano.

"Parents need to be open and honest and don't be afraid to go ahead and breach the subject with their teens," said Pamela Fair with the Columbus Department of Public Health.

Fair says they've seen about 700 teens at their teen clinic, Adolescent Health, since October 2011.

She says even though it can be uncomfortable, parents need to talk with their kids about abstinence or safe sex.

"If they are sexually active many teens do not fully understand how they contract a sexually transmitted disease, how they prevent a sexually transmitted disease and what the symptoms are," said Fair.        

Swanier says she agrees with the abstinence focused curriculum that her kids are learning about in Georgia schools.

"Truly, I am more than 200% in agreement with," said Swanier.

Whatley says because of her experiences as a teen mom, she encourages families to be open.

"Tell your momma, so she can get you some birth control. Tell your daddy, so he can get you some condoms. Protect yourself, and if you are going to do it, let somebody know that you are going to do it," said Whatley.

Officials say in Alabama, schools are not allowed to hand out any form of contraception. In Georgia, however, officials say it is up to each district to decide whether or not to provide contraception to students in Muscogee County, they do not give out contraception.

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