Most of South Carolina’s 85 school districts aren’t following the reproductive health education requirements of a 25-year-old state law, according to a report released Monday by the New Morning Foundation.
According to the report, the Comprehensive Health Education Act of 1988 was designed to standardize health education instruction for all South Carolina public schools. The law included specific requirements for teaching reproductive health education, and required state education officials to monitor districts’ compliance.
But when the New Morning Foundation used Freedom of Information Act requests to examine how school districts are teaching reproductive health, they found that three out of four school districts aren’t complying with at least one requirement of the CHEA. Researchers also found that many districts lack adequate or up-to-date policies regarding reproductive health education.
“In its time, the CHEA was considered a groundbreaking piece of legislation and remains a model of a statewide policy,” said Dr. David Wiley, a health education professor at Texas State University and one of the lead researchers on the project. “However, our research found the CHEA is in need of an update.”
For example, researchers found that many districts’ reproductive health lessons included little to no information about contraception or condom use. Many districts use discriminatory and misleading curricula regarding reproductive health education, including outdated gender roles, idealized family structures, and medically inaccurate information. As a result, researchers found that from 2005 to 2011, condom use among sexually active teens actually dropped from 67 percent to 58 percent.
South Carolina consistently ranks among the top ten states by rate of HIV/AIDS, chlamydia and gonorrhea cases, and ranks 12th in the U.S. for teen births. While the social consequences of those figures should of course be alarming, the economic aspects should be equally concerning. Teenage births cost South Carolina taxpayers nearly $200 million every year, to say nothing of the lost wages by teen mothers who are forced to take care of their child instead of working. About 150,000 teenagers gave birth in South Carolina between 1991 and 2008, costing taxpayers a total of $4.1 billion.
Researchers also uncovered significant disparities by race and ethnicity in teen birth rates in South Carolina. For example, while African-American females make up 36% of South Carolina’s population of 15–19 year old females, they account for 47% of all births to teens.
“We hope this report stimulates conversations at the state and local levels about health education, sexuality education, teen pregnancy prevention, and how all adolescent health risk behaviors affect high school graduation rates and, ultimately, the future of South Carolina,” said New Morning Foundation research analyst Kathryn Zenger.
Researchers recommended that the state strengthen evaluation and monitoring of the CHEA, require evidence-based and medically-accurate reproductive health education, and mandate specific time requirements for staff development in health education.