Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry responded to a report in the Associated Press concerning legislation approved by the North Carolina House Education Committee, intended to require an expanded sexual education curriculum, including information about contraception, in grades seven through nine throughout the state.
“I would love to see the proposed legislation itself to get a better understanding of exactly what the legislative interpretation is,” he said.
Perry explained the system’s general policy toward tackling risqué issues.
“One of the things we do seek to do is to get parental involvement,” he said. “We wouldn’t even begin to address or expand curriculum, particularly in areas that are controversial, unless we had input from our local community.”
The current curriculum in the state focuses on abstinence until marriage, and was enacted in 1995 when Republicans won control of the state House for the first time in more than a century.
School systems can currently introduce a curriculum that discusses contraception, but only after a lengthy process including public hearings. Only about a dozen of the state’s 115 school systems have adopted the broader curriculum.
The proposed legislation would allow parents or guardians to choose for their children the abstinence-only curriculum, or the comprehensive sex education course. If parents make no choice, their children would be placed in the comprehensive sex education curriculum.
The expanded instruction would lead to fewer unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, the bill’s advocates said.
“Parents will decide, not politicians, the content of sex education that is right for their children,” said Rep. Bob England, D-Rutherford, a retired family physician who said he delivered more than 3,000 babies during his four-decade career.
House Minority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, said the revamp went too far, leaving open to interpretation vague references that include requiring students be taught to respect “committed relationships,” as well as marriage.
North Carolina ranked 14th among states with the highest teen birthrate in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in January. But most of those births were to women who were 18- or 19-years-old.
Girls of school age, between 15 and 17, averaged almost 26 births per 1,000 in 2006, compared to a rate of 22 per 1,000 nationwide, the CDC said.
The Richmond County Health Department released its 2008 State of the County Health Report in November, listing teen pregnancy rate as a public health issue.
“Richmond County continues to experience teen pregnancy rates above the state average,” the report read.
In 2007, the health department reported 152 pregnancies in teenage girls aged 15 to 19, for a rate of 96.4 per 1,000, as compared to an even 63 across the state.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services breaks the data down further on its website.
According to its data, Richmond County had a pregnancy rate of 53.8 per 1,000 for girls between 15 and 17 in 2007, as compared to 34.8 statewide.
With 18- and 19-year-old girls, the state rate was 101.6 per 1,000, while Richmond County’s rate was 167.2.
The 2007 data reflected a slight decrease from 2006 in the county report, but an overall increase from 2003.