Alaska editorial: Teens know they need sex education; Alaska schools should offer it

Posted: Friday, May 08, 2009

Alaska student leaders have taken a stand that shows they are more willing to confront the reality of teenage sexual behavior than the adults in charge are. The Alaska Association of Student Governments, at a meeting of some 255 students in Sitka last month, overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for mandatory, comprehensive sex education for all high school students, according to a report by the Juneau Empire.

The students cited evidence that the abstinence-only approach used for federal programs during the Bush administration didn't work.

They noted Alaska ranks at the top in the country for per capita cases of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease.

They noted the complete absence of sex education standards at the state level.

"The more information you have, the better. ... It helps you make better choices," said resolution co-author and West High junior Makenzie Curtis-Johnson, as quoted by the Juneau Empire. "The choices are still there whether you have the information or not."

With teen pregnancies on the rise, with a report last year that one in four teenage girls are infected with at least one of the common sexually transmitted diseases, these student leaders are right: Adults are doing teens no favor by glossing over the facts of life.

The matter is left up to individual school districts in Alaska. The state should set some standards. And every school district needs to tackle this important issue.

The Anchorage School District does not require high school students to take any sex education classes at all, or even health education, much less a comprehensive class that tells about birth control and disease prevention. The last time Anchorage students get any information on sex is in eighth grade.

Superintendent Carol Comeau said she's always believed high school students should get a broad-based health class, and she's glad the students have brought the idea of mandatory sex ed forward.

The School District will re-examine graduation requirements this year, and the timing is good for considering sex ed, Comeau said.

Many people on religious grounds don't want anything but abstinence taught. The Juneau School District handles that by sending parents a letter outlining all of the topics, so that parents can opt out of specific lessons such as those on preventing STDs, the Empire reported.

That's a much better approach than ignoring the subject altogether. And it still gets comprehensive information into the hands of most students.

Anchorage should require sex education as part of the high school coursework.

And, as the student leaders said, so should the state.

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