A year-long audit by Planned Parenthood revealed that public high schools in Ventura County are, in some way, violating state law when it comes to sexual health education.
The organization audited various health text books and supplemental materials that schools are using to see if they are in compliance with the California Education Code.
Of the tri-counties, Ventura County was the most compliant, with Oak Park Unified receiving a 91 percent compliance score. Simi Valley received the lowest compliance score — 64.16 percent — with the audit revealing that the district’s materials failed to cover methods to reduce risk of STD transmission, local resources for testing and treatment, and the safety and effectiveness of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods.
Statistics point out that the need for sex health education is relevant in today’s curriculum. In Ventura County, the rate of HIV/AIDS contraction has stabilized, but chlamydia, the most frequently reported of all sexually transmitted diseases, continues to rise. According to the California Department of Public Health, the number of chlamydia cases has risen from 1,570 in 2005 to 2,322 in 2009. Of these 2009 cases, 491 females and 80 males were between the ages of 15 and 19. In 2008 in Ventura County, there were 1,090 births for girls between the ages of 15 and 19; in 2007, 1,149 births; in 2006, 1,164.
Less than half of the districts cover methods to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infection, according to the audit, which focused only on curricula.
“We’re not making any value judgments. We’re just looking at compliance,” said Christine Lyon, vice president of external affairs of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties Inc.
In California, it is mandated that schools teach HIV and AIDS prevention. Schools are not mandated to teach sexual health education, but the schools that choose to do so must teach a comprehensive curriculum that complies with the Education Code.
All school board policies, with the exception of Santa Paula Union and Oxnard Unified, were compliant or partially compliant with the 2004 Education Code. But in a number of categories, several districts’ practices were not compatible with policies set forth by their school boards.
“It’s a fascinating thing when you have a school board with policy compliance and a district that isn’t,” said Lyon. “The board has to approve materials, so if the board had a policy, they would want to make sure that what is being taught is policy.”
The audit began in June 2009 and was carried out through the following school year. Planned Parenthood representatives began by contacting superintendents about obtaining materials used to teach sexual education, but tracking down the materials wasn’t easy.
“There wasn’t always a clear person who could answer the question about what materials were being used at the district,” said Brianna Eardley-Pryor, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood. “It took a number of tries to get the right information. If they couldn’t send the materials, we offered to come on site and evaluate in person, which we did, from Simi Valley to Shandon (in San Luis Obispo County).”
Even though school district finances have been seen as the lowest-hanging fruit in recent budget cuts, resulting in classrooms and teachers losing valuable teaching resources, Planned Parenthood officials believe that should not be an excuse for lacking sexual health materials. The audit names a number of sources that provide free materials that would cover the topics mandated in the Education Code.
The results of the audit were released to school officials weeks prior to the results of the audit being made public on Monday, April 25. Simi Valley officials have since contacted Planned Parenthood with additional materials that were not examined during the audit.
Ventura Unified was 84.68 percent compliant, the second-highest score in the audit. Debbie Golden, board president for Ventura Unified, also served on the expert panel of the audit. She said the audit provided an excellent opportunity to open up dialogue about an issue that often gets skirted around.
“Young people need to be provided with information to make healthy and educated decisions,” Golden said. “If we do our job, we can prevent teenage pregnancy and transmission of STDs.
“Sex education is a hot topic, and not an easy thing to face today,” she added. “If we don’t teach our young people well, the community will have to face the cost.”
More information about the audit and results can be found at www.publicschoolsproject.org