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Independent assessment should guide further action

Any school curriculum or policy could be improved by an objective review. Even a solid program can be strengthened by addressing flaws or adding new information.

The Vigo County School Corp. will seek an outside review of its sex-education curriculum. The district currently uses in its middle and high schools an abstinence-based program, funded and offered by the Terre Haute Crisis Pregnancy Center. VCSC health teachers partner with the center in the program, called Creating Positive Relationships.

Concerned Vigo County parents have for months questioned the use of an abstinence-only program, and advocating for a more comprehensive approach to sex education. Criticisms have been raised at School Board meetings. A meeting of the VCSC health education committee on Jan. 30 included a spirited discussion on the curriculum.

Afterward, school district officials said the VCSC would pursue an outside review of its sex education curriculum. Karen Goeller, the district's deputy superintendent, said the VCSC health curriculum coordinator will collaborate with health teachers and medical professionals “to find an objective group” to conduct the review.

“We're always receptive to having additional reviews of curriculum,” Goeller said after the meeting.

Seeking an independent review is a pragmatic approach.

Vigo County and all other Hoosier school systems must work within the confines of laws passed by the Indiana General Assembly. State law does not require sex education in schools. The law does, however, require that if schools offer sex education that abstinence must be taught “as the expected standard for all school-age children." Also, curriculum must teach that abstinence “is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems.”

State law also requires Indiana school districts to get permission, in writing, from parents before a child receives lessons on human sexuality in class. Parents can see the curriculum in advance, if they want.

Supporters of the CPR program, including VCSC educators, have emphasized its quality and value, especially in instructing young people about decisions on relationships and safe dating. Its core message is that postponing sexual activity until marriage "is the healthiest choice."

Critics of the current program insist the state mandate for abstinence-based curriculum does not preclude additional, more comprehensive information to provide age-appropriate, "medically accurate" instruction on topics such as sexually transmitted diseases.

School Board member Joni Wise, also the Vigo County Health Department administrator, and district health education committee parent representative Robin Danek urged an outside review of the curriculum at the Jan. 30 meeting.

The end result should be a sex-education curriculum that can equip any student to make wiser decisions as young adults. There are real implications to be considered. Thirty-one percent of Hoosier high schoolers indicated they were sexually active, according to the annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2015. STDs reported in Vigo County rose sharply from 2014 to 2018.

"You can still have an abstinence-based program that arms students with knowledge about the consequences of their actions, but also what to do if they are in a situation where they need to protect themselves," said Danek, a senior lecturer at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Terre Haute.

Along with an outside review, surveys on the CPR curriculum filled out by administrators, teachers and families could guide changes, according to recommendations discussed at the health education committee meeting. Also recommended was gender equality, identity and diversity training for health teachers, and training middle school health teachers on a yet-to-be-used, school-board-approved health supplement to the CPR lessons.

Each of those steps should help Vigo County students to make wiser, safer life choices.

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