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Change to NEISD's Middle School Sex Ed Program Sparks Some Controversy

The North East Independent School District will begin teaching more than abstinence-only in its middle school sex education classes this year. This has sparked some controversy.

The curriculum that NEISD is going to use is called Draw the Line, Respect the Line, produced by the company ETR. Last year, sex ed in the district was abstinence only. Aubrey Chancellor is the school district’s executive director of communications. 

"It is still abstinence-based and always has been. The only difference now in this particular curriculum is that it’s more evidence-based and that it includes an additional lesson that will go through the steps on how to properly put on a condom," she says. 

Chancellor says the lesson on condom use would be taught with printed materials and based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Patrick Von Dohlen, chairman of the San Antonio Family Association

One opponent – Patrick Von Dohlen - has claimed the district would use a kit with an actual condom and a replica of a penis, though Chancellor says that’s not true. Von Dohlen is the chairman of the San Antonio Family Association, a Christian nonprofit that describes itself as defending the family. 

"It also has two pamphlets -- one that says condom facts and a smaller one on how to use a condom. And so it’s very overt to what it’s teaching these 11 to 13-year-olds," Von Dohlen says.

Chancellor says that she sent Von Dohlen a letter saying the kit would not be used.

"The San Antonio Family Association very well knows that NEISD has never planned on using that lesson, that kit or anything inside that kit. We’ve informed them of that several times. We’re not really certain why they keep saying we’re going to use something they know we’re not going to," Chancellor says.

Von Dohlen says the Family Association wants a strictly abstinence-only curriculum.

"It’s best, especially for 11- to 14-year-olds to teach abstinence only. It is in conformity with all the other NEISD programs which are risk-avoidance.  And risk-avoidance means no drinking, no drugs, no smoking. And in this case, it had been no sex until marriage, and from this standpoint, that’s what’s healthiest for these children," he says.

"First and foremost the district has and will always say that the only 100 percent way to prevent pregnancy or STDs is abstinence. We stress that. That is the crux of the curriculum," she says.

In fact, it’s Texas law that if school districts do teach sex ed, they must teach that abstinence is the only fail proof way to avoid getting pregnant or getting STDs.

"However, we are also going to let the students know, if they go in another direction, if they make a different choice for themselves, they need to know properly how to protect themselves," Chancellor says.

Denise Jones is the mother of a sixth grader, Erin, who attends Bush Middle School. Erin is the youngest of her four children. Jones is also the former chairwoman of the School Health Advisory Council which advised the district on sex ed curriculum changes.

"Obviously, they’re going through changes with their bodies, and I think it’s important for them to understand how their body works, and things that they may be presented with. In today’s society, things are happening at younger ages based on social media, based on what’s on TV in prime time, what they hear at school. I think it’s best they have the information," Jones says.

Jones says her family is religious. But she says she feels it isn’t appropriate to expect a public school to teach religious values when it comes to sex education. 

Von Dohlen says that it is the parents’ responsibility, and not the school’s, to educate their children about sex and their family values about sex.

"I like that my child can learn about sex education from a trusted source at the school, in a safe environment, and then that can be complimented by what I as a parent see is my role. And my role is, of course, to answer questions they might have about the material that is presented but also to instill our family values, our family morals," Jones says.

Sex ed classes begin in November. Parents have the option to opt in for their child to attend specific modules or the entire curriculum.

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.