For the past 25 years I have worked both globally and locally with health systems, such as DHEC, to improve services aimed at helping people lead healthy lives. I have worked at the Arnold School of Public Health as an Assistant Professor for five years and, while I maintain my affiliation with the School, I am directing a statewide initiative that works to ensure that all South Carolinians, including young people, have the information they need to be healthy.
I am also the parent of an 8-year old boy who is attending public school in our state. So, for both very personal and professional reasons, I am writing about an issue that is of utmost importance to me, my husband, our son, and children and families throughout South Carolina.
The children of South Carolina often are cited as “the state’s most valuable resource," and yet our actions do not match our rhetoric. Schools have more influence on the lives of young people than any other social institution except the family. And we know that education and health are inextricably linked. We know that youth who are at risk for poor academic outcomes are also at risk for negative health outcomes, such as sexually transmitted infection and unintended pregnancy. South Carolina ranks 42nd in the nation in terms of residents’ health status, and is in the top 10 among states with exceedingly high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV/AIDS.
How do we improve our children’s health? With solid, evidence-based policies and by initiating prevention and health promotion early in life, both in our homes and in our schools.
The Comprehensive Health Education Act, known as CHEA, was passed in 1988 to standardize health education, which includes sex education in public schools throughout South Carolina. Evidence and our knowledge has expanded since 1988, yet the CHEA has not been updated in 27 years! The amendment to the Comprehensive Health Education Act (S.574) would ensure that medically accurate materials are used when teaching young people about their health. Every young person must have medically accurate information about abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention to make the best decisions for their lives.
The CHEA requires instructors to promote abstinence until marriage as well as skills and knowledge about contraceptive methods and their effectiveness. S.574 does not change that. But it does require that medically accurate information be taught in our schools. Would we want our children learning that 2+2 = 5 or that the earth is flat? NO! In that same vein, our children need to understand their bodies and how they work; they need medically accurate information.
Polls over the years have shown that South Carolinians support sex education that emphasizes abstinence and teaches about contraception. However, health is the only subject taught in South Carolina that does not require teachers to have certification in the specific content. Thus, it is even more critical that we assure students are taught using medically accurate, age appropriate materials.
If we value our children and young people, we need to offer them the information and life skills that will support them as they grow and face an increasingly complicated and interconnected world.
I personally will continue to support this amendment so that my son and children like him throughout our state receive the education they deserve and to which they have a right!