Area schools to offer family life instruction

Friday, November 30, 2007

The number of pregnancies among girls aged 15-17 in Marshall County remains high enough again to require continued family life instruction through the school system, according to state and local officials.

Heather Lodari, coordinator of School Health Programs for the Marshall County School System, reported the situation to the Board of Education during its November meeting.

Because of state law, Marshall County has held these courses annually for at least six years and must offer them into the next decade.

If the most recent state health statistics show the pregnancy rate in any county to be greater than 19.5 per 1,000 females aged 15-17, then the local education authority is required to implement a program of family life instruction, according to the law.

Almost all the surrounding counties offer similar instruction.

Rachel Woods, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, stressed that family life instruction is not sex education. Lessons are part of health classes, and parents who don't want their children to attend "can opt out ... and participate in study hall or other activities," Woods said. "It's not a semester-long curriculum."

The family life instruction is to be provided to eighth graders, Lodari said. Classes will be split by gender when appropriate.

Classes are to be made available through the Pregnancy Resource Center on Martin Street in Lewisburg, which is led by Lisa Jeter. She noted that abstinence comprises a large part of the instruction.

A public meeting for parents and others who want to know more about what will be taught during the family life classes is planned for the near future, according to Jeter and Lodari.

During 2006, there were 17 Marshall County girls aged 15-17 who were pregnant, according to the Tennessee Department of Health's Division of Health Statistics. Lodari provided an Internet link to the state web site that displays a tabulation of the statistics.

For Marshall County, 17 pregnant girls represents a rate of 27.7 per 1,000, according to the state chart mentioned by Lodari. There are fewer than 1,000 girls aged 15-17 in the county, so the rate number is greater than the actual number.

The state law requires such education during each of the four years after a county's pregnancy rate exceeds 19.5 per 1,000.

Statistics on the previous years here in 2001-04 show the pregnancy rate was declining until 2005, when the rate started to increase.

The state law, which has been in effect since the 1991-92 school year, states, "The locally devised and implemented program of family life education shall emphasize abstinence from sexual relations outside of marriage, the right and responsibility of a person to refuse to engage in such relations, basic moral values, as well as the obligations and consequences which arise from intimacy.

The program shall also include a component which specifically addresses the nature and prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases."

The law authorizes the state to withhold funds from school systems that don't provide the instruction when required.

Qualified health care professionals may teach the courses, but such instructors must be of "upright character and good public standing," according to the state law.