Last week the Baker County school board unanimously voted to adopt a strict abstinence-only sex education program. The state-funded program will be a mandatory class for high school freshmen in the county.

The school board had postponed voting on the program for two weeks “to give staff more time to ensure that it did not include any instruction on contraception.” According to The Baker County Press, the vote took place after “virtually no discussion.”

Baker County is one of several others to have strictly interpreted Florida’s statute on abstinence education. Other counties have adopted an “abstinence-based” curriculum, which includes information on contraception and STDs. Baker County’s curriculum, however, will focus on the “benefits and values achieved through self-confidence, assertiveness, communication skills, performing community service and setting and achieving goals.”

The decision to address sex education in Baker, and counties like it, stems from concern over high teen pregnancy rates. Baker County high school students are 46 percent more likely to become teen parents than other teens around the state.

Earlier this year, students from Baker County acted as part of a “listening tour” alongside the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition’s Teen Pregnancy task force. The tour voiced information gathered from a survey of teens in Baker on the subject of teen pregnancy, sex education, and birth control.

Students on the tour told members of the community that the sex education curriculum in Baker focused too much on abstinence and not enough on contraception– a problem that will continue unaddressed.

Though students called for a more comprehensive sex education program, officials in the county said: “their hands are tied.” According to the Baker County Press, a Florida statute mandating abstinence-only education is to blame.

Other counties are currently expanding their curriculum, arguing that the statute is less of a strict mandate and more of a framework.

Manatee County recently expanded its sex education curriculum to include more comprehensive information, while also teaching abstinence. Manatee officials were concerned that an abstinence-only curriculum was contributing to the county’s high number of teen pregnancies and STDs.  Parents and school board members in Flagler County shared similar concerns.

According to the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida, the teen birth rate in Baker County is 76.1 per 1,000 people, nearly twice the state average of 42.5.

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