A small high school in Texas is currently grappling with an STD outbreak, as 20 cases of chlamydia have been confirmed among the student population. Since Crane High School only has about 300 students, that means about one in 15 kids there has been infected. School district officials sent out letters to the parents of high schoolers and middle schoolers to inform them of the “growing problem.”
The outbreak is putting the spotlight on the potential gaps in education in the Crane Independent School District. As Raw Story notes, the West Texas district does not currently offer a regular sex ed course that’s integrated into students’ health classes. High schoolers receive just three days of optional sexual health education during the fall semester, and those materials are centered on abstinence.
“Honestly this happens in any town, but just for it to hit close to home, I mean parents need to be aware of the situation and make sure they tell their kids to be safe and practice safe sex,” Diana Martinez, a parent who has young children in the school district, told local outlet NewsWest 9.
Not everyone agrees. In an interview with My San Antonio on Monday, the superintendent of Crane Independent School District, Jim T. Rumage, said that abstinence education is still the best approach for students, regardless of the current outbreak. “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease,” Rumage said. “That’s not a bad program.”
A significant body of scientific research confirms that abstinence-based curricula are, in fact, bad programs. They’re often riddled with negative messages about sexuality and gender roles, and tend to downplay the effectiveness of birth control. On the other hand, more comprehensive sex ed programs that don’t rely so much on scare tactics have been proven to help teenagers delay sexual activity, as well as practice safe sex when they do choose to engage in that behavior.
Health experts agree that funding abstinence programs is a waste of money — as well as potentially dangerous. The states like Texas, where schools are not currently required to offer comprehensive sexual health instruction, have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies.
Nonetheless, the Lone Star State has aggressively sought out federal and state funds for programs that stress the importance of sex within marriage. Its most recent attempt to bring down the number of teen births involved building a website that doesn’t include any mention of birth control. Some of the more controversial abstinence-only materials used in the state’s public schools tell students that having sex will make them like a chewed-up piece of gum.
Recently, in light of some of the failures of this approach, there has been a slow shift away from abstinence-only programs toward what’s called “abstinence plus.” In those curricula, students still hear shame-based messages about waiting until marriage, but they also receive accurate information about birth control and STDs. The abstinence plus course that’s previously been endorsed by the Crane Independent School District — called “Worth the Wait” — has made some improvements to its curricula over the past several years to include this data.
There may be additional improvements on the horizon for Crane students. School district officials are reportedly meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward with the school’s sexual health curriculum.