July 31, 2012 — Slightly more than half of Mississippi's 151 school districts have opted to teach abstinence-only sex education curricula, according to the state Department of Education, the Jackson Clarion Ledger reports (Jackson Clarion Ledger, 7/28).
Under a 2011 state law, school districts are required to teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus -- which may include discussions on birth control but no condom demonstrations -- beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year. Previously, school districts were not required to use a certain approach, but those that went beyond abstinence required school board approval.
According to a list released by the state Board of Education on Friday, 81 districts have chosen an abstinence-only approach, while 71 have chosen abstinence-plus. Three districts are using abstinence-only in lower grades and abstinence-plus for older students. In addition, the Board of Education chose abstinence-plus for four specialty schools it governs, according to the AP/San Francisco Chronicle.
A study by the Mississippi Economic Policy Center released in September 2011 found that births to teen or preteen mothers cost the state $154.9 million in 2009. Mississippi First and the Women's Fund of Mississippi -- groups that advocate for evidence-based sex education -- say that abstinence-plus curricula can help reduce teen and preteen pregnancy rates.
On Friday, Jamie Bardwell, program director for the Women's Fund, said, "We are pleased and excited that so many districts decided to go with abstinence-plus." She added, "It definitely shows a need and a desire for more than just abstinence only. It reflects the reality that 76 percent of Mississippi 12th graders have already had sex" (Wagster Pettus, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/29).