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PrEP
August 2014 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Will It Play in Peoria? Federal and State Influences Impact “Local Control”

By Greg Tartaglione, SIECUS Program Research Intern

In central Illinois, Peoria County’s School District 150 is addressing its unflattering rates of STDs and teen pregnancy by announcing their intention to shift away from longstanding abstinence-only instruction in its public schools. Driving the change, in addition to the reality of public health data, are new state education laws and new funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Will these influences upon local control of school-based sexuality education foster controversy or consensus?

Peoria County has some of the state’s highest rates of teen STD cases and pregnancies. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia among teens are especially high: the zip codes that account for School District 150 have had higher-than-average prevalence of these cases for years.[1]

Schools in Illinois are not required to provide comprehensive sexuality education but as of January 2014 they were prohibited from teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. When Governor Pat Quinn signed House Bill 2675 into law, local school districts were put on alert that in grades 6 through 12, abstinence-only programs would no longer be permitted. While districts are not required to teach sexuality education, those that do teach it must include medically accurate information on condoms and other forms of contraception.[2]

The Illinois Department of Education applied for, and received, CDC funding in 2013 to implement a five-year plan for addressing teen sexual health risks in at least 15 priority school districts of the nearly 900 districts in the state. With District 150’s obvious need documented by the Peoria County Health Department, School District 150 was selected as one of the 15 priority districts by the state Department of Education and the task fell to local school officials to comply with the both the new state law as well as the requirements of CDC funding. 

At a school board meeting in July 2014, District 150’s Special Education Director Maureen Lanholf presented a plan to implement more comprehensive sexuality education instruction, beginning with a change in district policy to be made official in the coming school year.

She noted that a survey of Peoria High School students revealed that, compared to their peers elsewhere in Illinois, Peoria teens were more likely to have multiple sexual partners yet also more likely to use condoms and avoid drugs before a sexual encounter. The approach she outlined will include creating a “supportive environment for students” including using local health centers and community organizations as resources beyond the schools.[3]

Reminding community stakeholders that teen pregnancy and STDs are not the sole responsibility of District 150, Lanholf stressed that “It's on our community plate... It's not just on my plate. It's not just on our teachers' plate. [High STD and pregnancy rates are] a community problem that we need to address.”[4]

Rev. B. Elliott Renfroe, a local Methodist pastor who supports the policy change, acknowledged that the switch to more comprehensive approaches would not come without opposition:

"A collection of churches are promoting abstinence. There are kids that are sexually active whether they are hearing it or not…But I think if the church would get involved at a lower level, and contribute a little sooner, then they'll be able to reduce those numbers. Which is my ultimate goal."[5]



[1] Pam Adams, “District 150 sex education proposal overshadowed by superintendent’s pay increase, public comments,” Peoria Journal Star, July 21, 2014, accessed July 29, 2014 at http://www.pjstar.com/article/20140721/NEWS/140729824/?Start=1.

[2] Tara Culp-Ressler, “Illinois Bans Abstinence-Only Sex Ed: ‘In Fantasy Land, We Teach Our Kids Abstinence,’” Think Progress, May 24, 2013, accessed July 29, 2014 at http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/05/24/2058601/illinois-bans-abstinence-sex-ed/.

[3] Alex Rusciano, “District 150 aims to expand sex education curriculum,” PeoriaPublicRadio.org, July 22 2014, accessed July 29, 2014 at http://peoriapublicradio.org/post/district-150-aims-expand-sex-education-curriculum.

[4] “District 150 Fights Alarming Sexually Transmitted Infections, Teen Pregnancy Numbers,” CentralIllinoisProud.com, July 23 2014, accessed July 29, 2014 at http://www.centralillinoisproud.com/story/d/story/district-150-fights-alarming-sexually-transmitted/14389/vZuzOXcryEWV0EemtH-iug.

[5] “District 150 to expand sex education curriculum,” NBCnews.com, July 23, 2014, accessed August 4, 2014 at http://www.nbcnews.com/id/55703822/#.U9-wB_ldUvk.

 

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