New Orleans City Councilmember At-Large Stacy Head and members of the Louisiana Public Health Institute and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies announced the launch of Geaux Talk to promote comprehensive sex ed.
Louisiana has some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases among young people in the U.S. The state has the highest rate of syphilis among adolescents, the second highest rate of gonorrhea and chlamydia among adolescents, and the third highest rate of HIV diagnoses among adolescents. The state also has the sixth highest teen birth rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most parents believe their children deserve comprehensive sex education in schools, and most parents think their children already are getting it — but that’s not necessarily the case. Louisiana doesn’t guarantee students receive comprehensive sex ed, and state law doesn’t require schools monitor whether they’re getting it.
— a new public health campaign from the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) — aims to give parents, as well as students, teachers and legislators, all the resources they need to begin conversations about getting comprehensive sex ed into schools and at home.
The campaign is powered largely through the results of a statewide survey from the LPHI and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES) finding that 84 percent of Louisiana parents and caregivers believe sex ed is an important part of their students’ curriculum, and nearly three-quarters of respondents said they believe schools should be required to deliver it. Sixty-five percent said sex ed should start as early as middle school.
“The campaign is designed to help all Louisianians have informed conversations about the value of sexual health,” said Kristie Bardell, LPHI’s Associate Director of Family Health. “Whether you receive it in school or not, there are resources available online for caregivers and young people … Whether school is public or private, all students deserve this education.”
Currently, sex ed in Louisiana schools must promote abstaining from sex before marriage — a comprehensive sex ed program would also include information about contraception and STDs and take a trauma-informed, medically accurate approach to sexual health decisions. (The survey also found that 86 percent of parents want a sex ed program that includes mental health, emotional wellness and healthy decision making — all part of a comprehensive approach.)
Nearly every year, lawmakers attempt to introduce statewide legislation allowing room for comprehensive sex ed, though they’ve been routinely challenged by conservative colleagues and lobbying groups arguing sex ed should stay at home and out of schools — in a state with the country's highest rates of new infections among people under 18 years old.
“What we’ve learned from previous legislative sessions is that they always say to us — in bringing this info in from a national level, because we had national parent surveys — one of the arguments would be, ‘Parents don't want this,’” said LPHI’s Raegan Carter. “Then we provide the data that nationally parents do want it, then they sometimes would say, ‘What about Louisiana parents?’ Now we have that data, that Louisiana parents are right there in line with national data [showing] parents want sex education taught in schools.”
Carter said the results of the survey likely will be delivered to legislators to prepare for the 2018 legislative session.
During this year's session, legislators shot down efforts to administer the CDC’s health risk surveys in schools — data that’s already being collected in nearly 40 states. Legislators and health advocates argued that without that information, the state potentially loses out on millions of dollars in federal funding for sexual health programs. Schools facing cuts to arts, music and other programs already have difficulty juggling sex ed programming — where it comes from, who administers it, how it fits into the curriculum.
And dramatic cuts on the federal level at the Office of Adolescent Health under the Department of Health and Human Services also will impact programs offered by IWES, which will see the end of a three-year grant supporting sex ed programs on June 20, 2018.
At-Large City Councilmember Stacy Head renewed her call for supporting comprehensive sex ed, which the Council has been unanimous in supporting over the last decade. Though it can’t guarantee funding or legislation on a statewide level, Head says the Council can continue to act as a bully pulpit on the issue.
“As a parent I believe and I know that most parents want fact-based sex education, biologically based, in schools,” Head said. “This study confirms that that is a truth. Just knowing as a policy maker or as an advocate or as a parent that that’s a truth doesn't give us the tools to go to the City Council or the school board or legislature like this study does.”
Head also proposed the city consider using money from the general fund to support sex ed programs to bolster nonprofit and private efforts.
“The philanthropic community is going to have to step in to fill the void the government has left nationally and statewide to overcome those hurdles,” Head said. “I don’t want want to spend money on stupid stuff frankly that we spend money on everyday. I don’t think it’s as important as the tiny bit of money it would take to get a comprehensive sex ed program in every single school in New Orleans.”
IWES Chief Program Officer Rheneisha Robertson says the Geaux Talk campaign will empower parents to “put necessary pressure on school officials, policy makers, decision makers, that young people have access to this information.”
“Ideally we all hope every student in every school has access to comprehensive sex ed," Bardell said, "but unfortunately that will take a while."