Thursday, February 26, 2009

Board approves new contract for abstinence-only education

Schools are a place for learning, but according to School Board member Allison Bruflat the board’s recent approval of continuing its abstinence-only curriculum is teaching students lessons that are not necessarily based on facts.

“We’re teaching our students life skills,” Bruflat said, “but when we tell students that a certain decision will fail and make them sick we are no longer teaching them to make decisions based on facts.”

The school board’s recent approval of a five year contract with the Lifeguard organization to provide abstinence-only education is just one part of a controversial issue that has been prevalent in American schools for some time. 

In 1996 Congress passed the Title V Welfare Reform Act, enabling the passage of the Federal Abstinence Education Law.  This law allocated $170 million to Abstinence-only education across the nation.  The Act was initiated in 1998 and has been adopted by ten States, including Missouri.  In 2004, the Women’s Clinic of Kansas City adopted the Lifeguard: Youth Development Program, Choosing the Best, a comprehensive abstinence-only curriculum that focuses on the development of youth in grades 5 though 12.  Lifeguard has chosen to use this specific curriculum in public and private schools that have requested it in this region of Missouri.  Raytown became one of the first districts in the metropolitan area to introduce the Lifeguard program in addition to the Human Sexuality curriculum already being used by the District in 2004.  

In 2007, the Missouri Congress attempted to pass an abstinence-only Law with House Bill 63 that would comply with the federal law.  School districts would be able to set their own curriculum, but would have to follow the eight Federal guidelines or present medically accurate information.  The Bill failed initially, but the following year passed when repealed.  The new law now requires that all Missouri Schools conform to abstinence-only curriculum that complies with the federal guidelines.  On January 12th, the Raytown School Board was presented with the option to renew their five-year contract with Lifeguard, but due to a lack of sufficient information or reports regarding the success rate of the program and opposition from some parents the board voted in a 3-3 tie, which brought the issue up for vote again at the next board meeting.

When Mrs. Kendra Porter, Physical Education Instructor at Raytown Middle School, learned of the Board’s decision not to renew, she was encouraged by fellow teachers to re-present the issue at the next meeting.  Porter is a Lifeguard certified instructor and says she has seen first hand the enthusiasm of the students who have participated in the Program.  

After hearing Porter give a speech  in support of Lifeguard the board’s second vote passed the renewal of the contract, this time with only one dissenting vote from board member Allison Bruflat.  

When asked about her decision to vote against it, Bruflat said that the, “Board did not have enough information the first time and they were not sure how it fit in with the current curriculum used by the district.”  Bruflat also admitted that, “the Board is not always readily in favor of renewing contracts that would obligate future boards.”  

From her personal standpoint, Bruflat also felt that it was not the school’s obligation to teach students issues regarding values and morality in this way, but that it is a parent’s obligation to instill these types of values in their children. 

One of the core messages relayed to students in the Lifeguard program is the value of sex within the sanctity of marriage.  The program is presented within a two-week period with eight lessons that require the students to complete workbook exercises with their parents. Bruflat relates that many of the school district’s students come from homes where parents may be divorced and live with their girlfriend or boyfriend and that telling a student that their parent’s behavior is wrong should not fall on the shoulders of a school district.   

Supporters of the Choosing the Best curriculum say it has good intentions for teaching students to make healthy decisions in regards to building relationships.  It focuses on building self-esteem and creating goals that are realistically achievable. The program stresses that sex before marriage can be harmful not only to the body’s physical health, but mental as well.  Lifeguard administrators admit that the use of condoms does help prevent unwanted pregnancy and many Sexually Transmitted Diseases, but the program cannot demonstrate proper usage of these contraceptives in order to continue receiving federal funding. Instead, the program focuses only on the failure rates of contraceptives.  They admit that their main concern is teaching children and adolescents that waiting for marriage is the healthiest option and that abstinence is the 100% guaranteed method in preventing unwanted teen pregnancies and the spread of STDs. 

As Bruflat suggests, schools not only teach facts, they teach life skills.  When not providing students with all the facts, even regarding the usage of contraceptives, opponents to abstinence-only curriculum believe we fail in the role of educators.  

“At some point 98% of adults in healthy relationships, in marriages even, will one day have to decide to use birth control,” Bruflat said.  “Our schools are misinforming our students in this regard because we are teaching them the failure rates of contraceptives and not stating the medical facts about their proper usage.”

Abstinence-only education was a hot topic during last year’s presidential election, especially when Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin became a grandmother to a child conceived outside of marriage.  Her teenage daughter Bristol, has recently come forward to say that she does not agree with her mother’s dedication to abstinence-only programs, but while support for abstinence-only education was high during the Bush Administration the transition in political power in Washington could bring some revisions. 

President Barak Obama’s budget will be revealed at the end of this month and if funding is pulled, states that have adopted Abstinence-only Sexuality Education Laws will have to either review their laws or find ways to fund these programs with State monies or through private funding.  Bruflat says that if the school district were forced to pay for the Lifeguard program out of their budget, the Board would not support it.