Last year, Manatee County addressed a significant rise in teen pregnancy in the county by opening up its sex education policy to include a curriculum that moved beyond “abstinence-only” information. At the time, county officials blamed the limited curriculum, among other factors, for the sharp rise in teen pregnancy rates.
Sex education programs in the county have since opened up to more comprehensive information, and changes to the curriculum have even allowed for information that Planned Parenthood specializes in teaching. Representatives from Planned Parenthood, however, are still not invited to speak to students, while those representing Care Net Manasota Pregnancy Center, which bills itself as “a nonprofit Christian ministry serving women,” remain a part of the new program.
Despite Planned Parenthood’s expertise in comprehensive sex education, the chain of reproductive health clinics has been consistently attacked for political reasons. Across the country, anti-abortion advocates have exaggerated the role that abortions play in Planned Parenthood’s services and have even compared the organization to the Ku Klux Klan.
Before last year’s policy shift, Manatee County had a stricter sex education policy than other state municipalities. The curriculum focused heavily on teaching abstinence as the best way to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. The county even barred groups like Planned Parenthood from coming in to speak to students in the 1990s, inviting groups like Care Net, instead.
Interpretation of the Florida statute requiring schools to “teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students” varies across the state. Some counties, such as St. John’s County, have implemented the statute with an “abstinence-only” curriculum– whereas Volusia County has adopted a more comprehensive program.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, educators in Manatee County decided to reevaluate their curriculum once reports came out that in 2008, almost 500 babies were born to teenage girls in the county. The rate was among the highest in any county in Florida.
The new health education guidelines for the school district of Manatee County describe the program as promoting “sexual abstinence as the expected standard for students.” However, “information concerning the risks and prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases will also be included.”
According to the new guidelines, outside speakers such as the Care Net Manasota Pregnancy Center and Planned Parenthood “will be carefully screened.” They also “must document the professional experience, background and/or education with credentials.” Outside speakers cannot “advocate controversial issues such as homosexuality, right-to-life, or abortion and their presentations cannot contain self-promotion, marketing, or advertising”
A grant-based program called “It’s your CHOICE” is aiding in implementing these new changes. The grant money has given the county the ability to invite more outside speakers, and supposedly ensures a greater variety of information for students.
Nan Gould, a sex education specialist with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central, said that representatives from her organization are still not invited to speak at the schools, while Care Net remains in the system.
According to Daniel Manassa of the center’s Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program, volunteers only speak by request of the individual school. Manassa says that Care Net has a closer relationship with private and charter schools. PACE, a school for at-risk girls, receives a more extensive program from Care Net– seven sessions discussing goals for the future and “why abstinence matters” in achieving those goals. STDs are also discussed. However, as part of the Christian group’s belief in abstinence before marriage, they do not teach the girls about contraception.
Care Net is known for distributing brochures to crisis pregnancy centers, which have been shown to disseminate inaccurate information.
Gould told The Florida Independent that the Manasota center uses those that volunteer with the centers to take part in the program. She explained that Planned Parenthood, however, hires only those with bachelor’s degrees and sex-education training to teach at schools.
“We are the ones that know this information,” she says.
Manassa says the Care Net center uses information from the Florida Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control when educating students about STDs, much like any other group would.
Gould says that, with the growing problem of teenagers contracting HIV in the U.S., it is important that schools provide robust comprehensive sex education programs.
Update: An earlier version of this article stated that Care Net is teaching sex education in Manatee County. A spokeswoman for Care Net has explained that the organization running the program in Manatee County is not Care Net, but most likely an affiliate. The Florida Independent spoke to the Care Net Manasota Pregnancy Center, a local affiliate of Care Net when reporting this piece. Care Net is an affiliation organization of pregnancy centers in North America. We regret the confusion.