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But without, well, actually talking about it. Sex education has been a contentious topic across the country as cultural norms shift, pitting parents, school administrators, legislators, and public-health officials against each other. Tennessee strictly limits what kind of sex education can be offered—even allowing teachers to be fined for any missteps—and dictates an abstinence-based curriculum that ultimately leaves teens without enough information to make informed decisions about sex.
Although the most vocal parents in recent years have wanted less sex education rather than more, scientifically sampled focus groups in Knoxville show a widespread demand for more comprehensive sex education, which research has shown is the most effective at preventing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and even early sexual activity.
Even within the limitations of state law, students, graduates, and some parents are taking issue with how sex education is taught in Knox County—by an educator hired away from a Christian-based abstinence organization after outside presenters were banned from teaching sex ed in Knox County schools.
The issue has galvanized young people to action. As a senior, Faust saw younger friends react badly to the sex education presentation in her school.
Last summer, shortly after Knoxville women having sex was founded, Just Educate conducted an online student survey that generated more than responses—most very critical of the curriculum and how it was taught—and began making a video based on interviews with local high-school students. In the long term, Faust and Rowcliffe want to create similar surveys and videos with teens in other East Tennessee counties, helping young people approach their own schools about improving sex education. She says school district staff agreed to make some changes, and she is hopeful the lessons will improve this spring.
The non-scientific Just Educate survey, publicized through social media and by word of mouth at schools and churches, prompted responses from students across Knox County, Rowcliffe and Faust say. I realized the severity of the issue.
Almost half of those surveyed said they were offended by something the teacher said in the sex-education presentation, 36 percent said they felt targeted or blamed at some point by the teacher, and 64 percent described the experience as completely negative. And then die. There is also no way to be sure every respondent was an actual Knox County high school student. She says she has observed the presenter give his lesson three times, unannounced, and never heard anything derogatory.
Rowcliffe questions whether supervisor observations are a reliable gauge of what usually happens in the lessons. Alves says regular teachers remain in the classroom during the presentation and have never complained about it. The district reviews and updates the presentation on a regular basis.
But the presentation is more than the words on a PowerPoint. The man chosen was Lucas Hurd, who was a youth minister and had presented sex education for Christian-based Justwait an organization whose name is still on his PowerPoint. Parents are given notice beforehand so their children can opt out.
McIntyre announced all sex education in the future would be taught by school or health department staff. Interestingly, just a month or so later, a parent objected in writing to the Justwait presentation offered at West High School. Ralph Hutchison provided a copy of the letter he wrote to McIntyre asking the school district to disavow the Justwait presentation verbally to students and in writing to parents.
Hurd has a bachelor of arts in religion from Carson-Newman College now University and has been a youth minister or abstinence teacher for almost 20 years, with certifications from the National Abstinence Association and Why Knoxville women having sex Abstinence Advanced Training, his shows. Melissa Tindell, public affairs director for Knox County Schools, says teachers may choose to handle the sex-education lesson themselves, but almost none do.
This approach emphasizes that the best choice is to refrain from sex before marriage, but it also covers the basics of the reproductive system and birth control. It heavily emphasizes the risks of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.
The state also supplies another reason regular teachers might want to avoid handling sex education. The Nashville-based group had claimed some teachers might be promoting oral sex as an alternative to intercourse. To pursue legal fines, the parent would have to file a lawsuit.
Although the general perception seems to be that local parents want a narrow, abstinence-focused curriculum, that may not be true, Brown says. A study prepared for the Knox County Health Department by the University of Tennessee College of Social Work found the overwhelming majority of participating parents and all the teenage girls favored a curriculum that covered more topics than just abstinence and the biology of sex.
The study used roundtable discussions with parents from Knox, Cocke, and Hamblen counties, recruited using a randomized telephone sample, as well as roundtables with girls ages 16 to But they are useful for gathering information about attitudes in a setting that helps people feel more comfortable and open. Instead, they wanted a full curriculum related to decision-making skills that would start in third grade and add different elements related to healthy relationships, puberty, and sex as the children mature. Still, just three of 79 parents said they would not allow their child to participate in a sex-education class that included information beyond abstinence.
Another grassroots push for comprehensive sex education in East Tennessee emerged last summer when Stephanie Bertels, with Women Matter of Northeast Tennessee, posted petitions to expand Knoxville women having sex education. Between two online platforms, the petitions garnered less than atures. In spite of their brief exposure to abstinence-based sex education, many local teens are sexually active.
A Knox County Health Department risk behavior survey conducted at 14 high schools across the district found 38 percent of high school students reported having sex at least once. Among seniors, the likelihood was 55 percent. In contrast to the abstinence-only and abstinence-based approaches, comprehensive sex education provides a broad overview of contraception and sometimes detailed information about consent and healthy relationships.
Research has shown that comprehensive sex education is more effective at reducing pregnancies, infection rates, and even sexual activity. The American Psychological Association in examined 15 years of research to conclude that comprehensive sex education is more effective at stopping the spread of HIV. Alves says three complaints about the sex-education presentation have been made with the school district during the past four years, none substantiated.
Some critics say they have approached the abstinence educator, Lucas Hurd, directly with objections and suggestions about his presentation, or asked school district leaders to change aspects of it. They say they were initially hopeful but felt duped when nothing changed. The first time, Hutchison says, an assistant principal assured him that Hurd would not teach the class again.
She would not assure me it would not happen again. Among other things, Lonas says she asked Hurd not to make jokes about girls. Rowcliffe expressed satisfaction with her meeting with Hurd and district administrators, who explained that students were misunderstanding remarks Hurd had made. She says she feels confident the meeting can lead to positive changes. She asked that Hurd provide students more information about the variety of birth control options available and tell students directly that the state limits the content of the lesson.
Jean Heise, humanities supervisor for Knox County Schools, says Hurd is now going to make a statement that his presentation follows state law and state health objectives. Census, 2. Two slides about hormonal birth control the pill, patch, etc. This is followed by a slide about their possible side effects, many of which are uncommon, Brown points out. One slide says a quarter of all new HIV cases are among people younger than She also questioned the statistic that claims one in four teens graduate from high school with a sexually transmitted disease.
She noted that at least one statistic cited was 20 years old and needs to be verified for accuracy in There is a higher level of father involvement. Brown says she thinks the district needs to conduct an outcome-based evaluation to see what students know before and after they hear the sex education lesson and what they still remember a year later. Many students interviewed by the Mercuryor surveyed by Just Educate, say Hurd tries to make his presentation funny as a way to help the students feel more comfortable with an uncomfortable subject.
But some found his Knoxville women having sex inappropriate, citing jokes that mock women and gays as well as tactics that inspire fear and shame in girls. The emphasis on women is obvious in the PowerPoint presentation. The slides related to teen pregnancy emphasize women making the choices and bearing all the financial and emotional burdens.
Lonas says she, too, thought the presentation put all the blame and responsibility for sex on girls. Multiple women who responded to the Knoxville women having sex Educate survey reported being told they need to avoid tempting or provoking men. So why are there are no slides in the PowerPoint dealing specifically with the responsibilities or ramifications for boys, whether that has to do with pregnancy, disease, or emotions? There are no pictures of penises infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
Hutchison, an ordained minister and coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, says he was outraged at the jokes his daughters heard during the sex-education lesson at West High School. Lonas and Hutchison both independently describe a slide in the presentation that uses a branching chart to show how infection exposure magnifies with multiple partners. Again, Heise and Alves say they have never heard Hurd make an inappropriate joke during his presentation.
In our ed questions to Hurd, the Mercury listed these alleged jokes and asked him whether he had made those statements; and if so, what their purpose was in his presentations.
Teens interviewed by the Mercuryand those who responded to the Just Educate survey, indicated that sex education in Knox County is so focused on marriage that it offers no information for anyone who is not on that path. Many teens commented that refusing to acknowledge any choices outside that framework is unrealistic and potentially hurtful.
For example, there is no information about what to do if you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, or how to treat one, several teens pointed out in the survey. Nor does the presentation explain what rape or sexual assault are, and what to do if you are a victim. I was embarrassed. Brown notes that Knoxville teens regularly report Knoxville women having sex sexually assaulted. Almost 12 percent of girls surveyed at school by the health department in and almost 6 percent of boys indicated they had been physically forced to do unwanted sexual things, ranging from touching to sexual intercourse, at least once during the year.
Are we creating an environment that allows a comfort level for someone to seek help? There is no discussion of risks, sexual protection, or long-term relationships among homosexual or transgender people. If homosexuality is brought up verbally, students say, it is mocked. A few students who took the Just Educate survey commented that they thought Hurd did a good job.
Even those seniors and graduates who disapprove of it often recall finding it mostly silly at the time. But a larger proportion of surveyed students, as well as the teens in focus groups conducted by UT, said they wanted more information on how to have safe sex, and less emphasis on abstinence.
Of sexual health websites examined, 46 percent addressing contraception provided incorrect information. The government is practically pushing us to harm ourselves for the sake of saving their own faces. Heather Duncan has won numerous awards for her feature writing and coverage of the environment, government, education, business and local history during her year reporting career.
Heather spent almost a dozen years at The Telegraph in Macon, Ga. You can reach Heather at heather knoxmercury. Knox County Schools officials say they have investigated such complaints before. The fear factor is offset with jokes, but many said the laughs came at the expense of others.
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