How is sex ed taught at local schools? Ohio has no standards

The state doesn’t have a standard for health education.

Credit: pepifoto

Credit: pepifoto

Unlike most other states, Ohio has no health education standards, despite multiple proposals for solutions in the General Assembly in the last few decades.

“Ohio still does not have health education standards,” said Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Board Association. “There have been a couple of pieces of legislation over the years that proposed the development of health standards but they did not pass the General Assembly.”

A Dayton Daily News investigation found that the lack of standards leads each of the region’s 72 school districts to adopt their own approach. Some school health teachers develop their own curriculum. Three districts partner with their local health department. At least 11 partner with a local faith-based program. Three partner with pregnancy help centers. One partners with Planned Parenthood.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Ohio law bars the Ohio Department of Education from proposing standards — setting specific learning objectives. There are, however, some general requirements under Ohio law regarding health education in Ohio schools.

The law requires local school districts to teach abstinence-only sex education and tell students that the only 100% effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections is to abstain from sex.

It requires students in grades kindergarten through sixth be taught about child abuse prevention, which parents can opt out of via written request, and sexual violence prevention in grades seven through 12, which parents can also opt out of via written request.

Students also have to learn about nutrition and movement, as well as drug prevention services, including information on why tobacco products and alcohol are harmful.

And new for this school year, schools have to teach suicide prevention in health class.

What do local sex ed programs look like?

Because there isn’t a standardized education that schools have to follow, individual districts sometimes rely on outside guidance.

In an Ohio Department of Education survey from this summer looking at what school districts teach in sex education, all school districts complied with the state’s requirements that students learn about sexually transmitted infections during health class. All but two complied with the rest of the state’s standards, including stressing that students should abstain from sexual activity until after marriage and conceiving children out of wedlock can have harmful consequence for the child, the child’s parents and society.

Locally, schools have a wide range of materials they use.

Last school year, Beavercreek City Schools reported using “Go for the Gold” from Elizabeth New Life Center/Marriage Works Ohio and “Worth Waiting For” from Hope Rising, two faith-based organizations in the Dayton area last school year.

Anaka Retting, spokeswoman for Beavercreek, said the district is no longer using the outside presenters this school year, and health teachers would be delivering “Go for the Gold.” The district also updated the textbook to Goodheart-Willcox’s “Comprehensive Health Skills for Middle School” and “Comprehensive Health.”

West Carrollton schools reported using “Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education that Works” and Planned Parenthood materials.

Some schools chose county health departments. Springfield Schools listed Clark County Public Health as a resource for the district and Kettering listed Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County as a resource.

Others use programs the school or teacher made up themselves. Mad River schools, for example, lists “teacher created documents” as part of their sex education for informing students about sexually transmitted diseases.

Jenny Alexander, Mad River’s spokeswoman, said the standards for the curriculum come out of the Ohio Revised Code. She said other resources are used to help teach the concepts, including social workers, Dayton Children’s Hospital, and more.

Northmont Schools rely on national standards, said Jenny Wood, spokeswoman for the district, since there are not any current state standards. Topics covered in middle and high schools include nutrition, dating violence, venereal diseases, organ donation, opioid abuse, alcohol, and tobacco.

Some schools object to state laws

In the audit, two schools declined to teach to the exact state standards required by law.

Ridgewood Local, a school district in Coshocton County, in east central Ohio, wrote in the survey: “We do not agree with teaching all the information below. A) Teach the potential physical, psychological, emotional and social side effects of participating in sexual activity outside of marriage. B) Teach that conceiving children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents and society.”

The other school district, Washington Local in Lucas County, wrote: “Since many of our students were born ‘out of wedlock’ we will not be teaching this concept.”

Policy makers weigh in

Maya McKenzie, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, said some schools come to them to ask for help developing sex education. To develop theirs, they referenced the National Sex Education Standards, which were developed by the Future of Sex Education (FoSE) Initiative. The curriculum lists multiple public health nurses, consultants and policy experts in sex education as contributors.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio senior director of education Sarah Dahlston said that abstinence-only education is at best, ineffective, and at worst, harmful to young people, especially to LGBTQ+ people, Black people and people of color, and survivors of sexual violence.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

“Abstinence-only programs fail at nearly every objective they put forth but there are many proven positive outcomes of relationship and sexual health education programs, including: delaying the onset of sexual activity, reducing the frequency of sexual activity, increasing condom and contraceptive use, reducing rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and making teens less likely to commit and less vulnerable to sexual violence,” Dahlston said.

John Stover, president of Ohio Value Voters, said parents should be asked whether to opt their kids into sex education, not asked to opt out. He also argued that kids could be unintentionally exposed to pornography or harmful materials when they are learning about health.

“They need to see to it that the parents are aware of what they’re teaching and they have to opt their child in, not out,” Stover said.

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