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The Journal Gazette

  • Kruse

Tuesday, July 03, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

The opt-in option

As state's teen birth rate falls, lawmakers limit sex-ed access

Teen birth rates

(per 1,000 females age 15-19, 2016)

U.S.........................................................................20.3

Indiana..................................................................23.6

Illinois...................................................................18.7

Kentucky...............................................................30.9

Michigan...............................................................17.7

Ohio......................................................................21.8

Source: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

Indiana's declining teen birth rate is a success story. At 23.5 births per 1,000 females age 15 to 19, the rate is the lowest ever recorded, according to Indiana Youth Institute figures. But the state still exceeds the national rate of 20.3, and a new regulation bears watching: Schools must now seek consent from a parent before instructing a student on human sexuality.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, was author of Senate Enrolled Act 65, approved on mostly party-line votes in the Senate and House. The Senate Education Committee chairman told the Statehouse File the requirement will serve as a check on teachers.

“Our state standards of human sexuality are very good in Indiana, but we have teachers who are going beyond what the standards are and getting into what I call more sensual, more nitty-gritty stuff, almost to the area of pornography,” Kruse told the online publication. “We thought, 'Wow, this is creeping in now' so we better do something so that it doesn't take over the curriculum.”

More than a check on teachers, the new requirement represents a check on the ability of Indiana schools to provide all students with information they need, although schools can include students whose parents do not respond to after a second consent request. The courses are now the only instruction a parent must actively “opt in” for a student to participate.

“I'm not giving consent for my son to learn fractions,” Angela Potter, an IUPUI graduate researcher, told Statehouse File. “I don't think it's necessary in high school (to require written consent).”

Figures from the Indiana Youth Institute indicate about 42 percent of Indiana high school students surveyed say they have had sex. Among students who are sexually active, 15.5 percent indicated they did not use any form of birth control the last time they had sex. Indiana teens are less likely than their peers nationally to have used a condom. 

Arkansas, with the highest teen birth rate in the nation at 35 births per 1,000 females, is among11 states that do not mandate sex education or HIV education instruction.

Indiana does not require schools to offer sex education but does require human sexuality instruction to emphasize abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage. Instruction must include the information that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other health problems. It must teach that the best way to avoid any sexually transmitted diseases or other associated health problems is to establish a marriage that is a “mutually faithful monogamous relationship.”

Indiana gives wide latitude to parents when it comes to education, allowing home-schooling families, for example, to operate with almost no requirements. When it comes to public education, however, Kruse and other lawmakers are too eager to place restrictions on trained and experienced educators.

Changes in the state's teen birth rate, incidence of sexually transmitted infections among youth, teen suicide rates and more should serve as a check on lawmakers. The state's progress shouldn't be compromised by legislators' views of what's appropriate.