Comprehensive sex education is a step closer to being taught in New Orleans public middle and high schools. Education committees in the Louisiana House and Senate approved three bills last week — one allows seventh- through 12th-graders in New Orleans public schools to receive sex ed, while two other bills authorize schools to perform anonymous student surveys to determine risk behaviors and the kinds of education students should receive.
The bills had the blessing of the New Orleans City Council, which urged their passage via a resolution on April 23. Last week, however, their reception in Baton Rouge wasn't as warm. While his bill to allow risk surveys passed by a 9-1 vote, the bill by State Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, allowing sex ed in New Orleans classrooms narrowly passed the House Education Committee on April 29 by a vote of 8-6. Bishop has attempted similar legislation in other sessions, but those bills were statewide. This year, his bills impact only New Orleans, which continues to face high rates of STDs and HIV.
The bills' strongest opposition came from the conservative religious group the Louisiana Family Forum and the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, which warned that teaching sex ed promotes abortion and a "contraceptive approach" to sexual health.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, criticized the bishops for allowing sex ed in Catholic schools (but promoting abstinence) while lobbying against it for public schools, where little if any sexual health information is available. In a fiery line of questioning to the panel, Smith said doctors have approached her about students using Band-Aids on their bellybuttons or drinking Mountain Dew to prevent pregnancy.
"These terrible myths — nobody is teaching them the other information," she said. "How are we going to stop HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, teen pregnancy? And have you looked at states that have implemented these and their rates have dropped tremendously? ... We are doing nothing. We are doing absolutely nothing."
A Senate version of the risk survey bill by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, passed the Senate Education Committee on April 30.