April 4, 2014 — A Mississippi law (HB 999) that requires schools to teach sex education to students has not been as effective as intended because of a lack of enforcement and a continued focus on abstinence-only education, the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the Times, the business community lobbied the state Legislature to pass the measure, which required districts to implement sex education by the 2012-2013 school year, because of concerns about the state's high poverty and low education rates related to teenage pregnancy. One-third of all births in Mississippi are to teens, and the state has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S.
The sex education law requires that schools offer either an abstinence-only program, which only encourages students to avoid sex outside of marriage, or an "abstinence-plus" program, which teaches about contraception as well as abstinence. Critics of the law -- which expires in 2016 -- have noted that it lacks any type of enforcement mechanism.
In addition, students must get a signed permission form from their parents to participate in sex education classes, resulting in few students actually attending the classes that are offered. Sex education advocates also criticize the law's requirement that male and female students be taught in separate classes and its ban on condom demonstrations.
Sex Ed Still Lacking Despite Changes
According to a study published in February by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, 12% of the state's school districts still do not teach sex education to students. Of the state's 151 school districts and four special schools, 81 chose to teach abstinence-only programs, 71 chose to teach abstinence-plus and some are teaching a mix of the two.
A separate study, also by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, found that the majority of parents and teens in the state think that some form of sex education should be taught in schools.
A key reason why the state is struggling to enact a meaningful sex education policy is because it is one of the most religious in the U.S., the Times reports.
Mississippi First Executive Director Rachel Canter said that implementing sex education programs is "a heavy lift in some communities." She added, "There are strong personalities on some school boards who adamantly believe that the Bible says abstinence only" (Semuels, Los Angeles Times, 4/2).