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Wisconsin Senators Move to Turn Back the Clock on Sex Ed

18 Oct

In a fast-moving piece of legislation, Senators are using Governor Walker’s special session on job creation to repeal the progress made after the passage of the 2009 Healthy Youth Act. The Healthy Youth Act raised the state standards for public school human growth and development instruction.

We just read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that teen pregnancy rates have been declining since 2009,” said Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Strategist for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “This bill is so poorly timed. Not only does this piece of legislation not create a single job in our state, it threatens to move us backwards in building up the next generation of informed, healthy youth. We all know teens need information to make healthy and responsible decisions about sex. Parents and youth should be outraged at this legislative sabotage.”

This bill removes information on the health benefits of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections as well as a requirement for schools to identify support for victims of sexual assault. This bill requires schools to revert back to the proven failure of abstinence-until-marriage types of instruction. This bill even redefines what “medically accurate” and “age appropriate” means.

The comprehensive sexuality education model is based on evidence that when teens participate in school and community programs that stress both the importance of waiting to have sex while providing accurate, age-appropriate, medically accurate and complete information about the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, teens delay sex and reduce sexual risk-taking.

For all young people, but especially those who do not receive medically accurate information from their parents, church or peers, our public schools are the best places to give them nondiscriminatory facts about how to stay healthy and make responsible choices. Repealing the Health Youth Act would be a regressive move for Wisconsin’s students and public health.

Senate Bill 237 will get a hearing in the Senate Committee on Education Wednesday, October 19 at noon in room 201 SE in the Capitol. You can read ACLU of Wisconsin live tweets of the hearing @ACLUMadison.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

Why Does Your State Senator Want Teen Pregnancy Numbers to Go Up?

14 Oct

That would be a good question for Senators Lazich, Galloway, Grothman and Leibham as well as Representatives Thiesfeldt, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Craig, Jacque, Kleefisch, Knodl, Kooyenga, Tom Larson, Litjens, Meyer, Nass, Nygren, Alvin Ott, Pridemore, Ripp, Spanbauer, Strachota, Stroebel, Wynn, Ziegelbauer and LeMahieu who have all signed on to a bill that would repeal the Healthy Youth Act.

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at noon in room 201 Southeast at the State Capitol, the Senate Education Committee will have a hearing to repeal the Healthy Youth Act, a bill passed during the Doyle Administration that raised the state standards for human growth and development curriculum in public schools. The proposal to repeal the law is so poorly timed, it’s astounding. In light of the recent news that teen birthrates in Milwaukee have plunged for the second straight year, we know that for this and other reasons comprehensive sex ed works to keep young people informed of the facts of how their bodies work and how they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancy.

Why do these legislators want to roll back the clock and keep teens in the dark about the facts of life? You’ll hear a lot of myths about sex ed from so-called family values, anti-gay and anti-abortion activists on Wednesday. Read more about the myths versus the facts on our blog.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

“Sensitive Issues:” Myths vs. Facts about the new Sex Ed Law

27 Oct

Sex Ed in Wisconsin: New State Standards
The Healthy Youth Act, a new law passed earlier this year that the ACLU of Wisconsin supported, raises the state standards for how public schools offer human growth and development courses. Now if schools offer sex ed, it should be non-discriminatory, fact-based, age-appropriate, and comprehensive in covering the benefits and function of FDA-approved methods of birth control. The comprehensive approach to sex ed is the most effective way to teach young people the facts about human sexuality so that they can make healthy choices in their adolescence and into their adult lives.

Since the new law was passed, and in the wake of the Cedarburg School District decision to segregate “sensitive issues” by requiring parents to opt their children into a comprehensive program, opponents of the Healthy Youth Act have promoted myths about the rights of parents and schools. Cedarburg’s decision has been criticized by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, by a physician and Cedarburg curriculum advisory committee and the District of Public Instruction.

And yet, social conservatives like op-ed writer Patrick McIlheran (in his Journal Sentinel column), GermantownNOW blogger Al Campbell and Charlie Sykes (on his October 19th show – part 3) are calling the new law an “oppressive” effort for the state to take power away from parents and school boards.

The Myth of Decreased Parental Control
First, critics suggest that parents don’t have control over their kids’ education regarding sex ed. The Healthy Youth Act continues to protect the right of parents to exempt their children from material they find objectionable. When a school district has a clear plan for human growth and development lessons, parents have the power to work with the school to make alternative arrangements. Additionally, the new law gives parents greater power in reviewing the curriculum at any time. Schools have the responsibility to ensure that exempted students have an equal, alternative assignment and do not face any grade penalty or discrimination for opting out. It is also common for parents to serve on the local school board’s curriculum advisory committees, as they do in the public meetings in Cedarburg. Parents’ rights and voices continue to be protected in the new law. But the law recognizes that young people and our state’s public health benefit when complete information about sexual health is offered to all students in our schools.

The Myth of Decreased Local Control
Critics also say that the law decreases local control over a school’s curriculum. This is hardly the case. The law raised state standards to ensure that young people receive information about reproduction and relationships that is comprehensive, fact-based and non-discriminatory. However the decision on how curriculum is designed and taught continues to rest in the hands of the instruction advisory committees and the school board members themselves. The Healthy Youth Act doesn’t require schools to teach human growth and development, but then schools would have to inform parents about the lack of education their children would receive. While evidence-based curricula packages are available to schools, the state Department of Public Instruction’s website has a toolkit that has resources for both schools and parents to teach human growth and development that works for their community. The state law outlines definitions but does not mandate a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

The Myth of Explicit Classroom Instruction
Reading opinion from social conservatives, one might think that the Healthy Youth Act is mandating that our local schools peddle pornography to children. But when the voices of criticism of comprehensive sexuality education come from radical, anti-contraception organizations like Pro-Life Wisconsin, misinformation needs to be countered with basic facts about the language of the new law.

The state law says that instruction must be “medically accurate” which means that it is based in science, approved by major medical journals and that instruction is reviewed by experts. Instruction must be “age-appropriate” or “suitable to a particular age group of pupils based on cognitive and emotional capacity.” School board members across the state might struggle with what they think age-appropriate means to them, but with puberty and adolescence come questions and young people deserve to get the facts about human sexuality.

State law does not require schools to “teach homosexuality.” The law does, however, require that instruction is free of bias against pupils of any race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic or cultural background or against sexually active pupils or children with disabilities. In the wake of recent suicides of gay teens and the attention paid to preventing bullying and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or non-traditional gender identity, classroom time devoted to teaching respect would do all Wisconsin schools some good. Wisconsin schools that offer comprehensive sexuality education should include time for discussion on the issues faced by LGBT youth and how schools can be safe places for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

State law does not require schools to “teach masturbation.” No place in the law mentions the word “masturbation,” nor does it define masturbation as a normal part of a healthy human sexuality. The law does say that instruction should include information about “reproductive and sexual anatomy and physiology, including biological, psychosocial and emotional changes that accompany maturation.” When proponents of abstinence-only instruction critique a comprehensive approach, do they believe that students would have fewer questions about masturbation if they receive no answers to their questions about relationships, reproduction or contraception?

What Parents, Teachers and Youth Rights Advocates Can Do
Download our resource pages (PDF) with “Questions for Parents to Ask About Sex Education” and “Ten Ways to Work for Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” Teachers and curriculum advisory committee members can visit the Department of Public Instruction’s webpage on human growth curriculum for more information on how to design lesson plans that work and nondiscriminatory. The ACLU of Wisconsin also has resources to share with teachers for effective lesson plans that can meet the improved state standards for schools across the state. Email the ACLU of Wisconsin for more information.

Why Cedarburg Schools Are Out of Step with the New Sex Ed Law

22 Oct

The Healthy Youth Act, a new law passed earlier this year that the ACLU of Wisconsin supported, raises the state standards for how public schools offer human growth and development courses. Because of the law, what we know as sex ed should be non-discriminatory, fact-based, age-appropriate, and comprehensive in covering FDA-approved methods of birth control, their benefits and how they work. The comprehensive approach to sex ed is the most effective way to teach young people the facts about human sexuality so that they can make healthy choices in their adolescence and into their adult lives.

But this month, the Cedarburg School District sent a letter to parents that described the school’s new policy regarding human growth and development instruction. Parents will be required to fill out an opt-in form in order for their children to receive a comprehensive lesson plan about reproduction and sexual health.

This year’s plan for sex ed at Cedarburg is unlike that of other schools across the state. By separating classes for topics the school board has deemed “sensitive” – topics that would be necessary to make the curriculum comprehensive and medically accurate – the school board is evading the law by offering non-comprehensive instruction to students who have no evidence of communication from parents.

Our state legislators wrote the law with the intention that all students would be offered complete information about sexual health and relationships as a basic part of their health classes. In spite of the long-studied recommendations from the school’s curriculum advisory committee, the board’s decision is unfortunate in that it is the very lack of communication from parents that will result in less education for students who deserve to get the facts about how their bodies work and how they can protect their own reproductive health.

So to the parents of Cedarburg: please read the letter from your school about sex ed carefully. Send a note to the school office saying what you think before November 1. But most importantly, make sure your school board members know that the silence of parents should not result in less information for the students of Cedarburg. Schools should be in the business of providing young people with more education, not less.

Read the latest about how the Department of Public Instruction warned the Cedarburg school district that their plan could be challenged by civil litigation and a letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from a physician and member of the curriculum advisory committee about why the plan is non-comprehensive and bad for the students of their school district.

Download our resource pages (PDF) with “Questions for Parents to Ask About Sex Education” and “Ten Ways to Work for Comprehensive Sexuality Education.”

Merrill School Board Stands Up For Healthy Youth

10 Sep

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin would like to send three cheers to the Merrill school board and the Mauston’s school district’s Human Growth and Development Advisory Committee for affirming that fact-based, comprehensive sexuality education should be taught in their local classrooms. The Merrill school board and Mauston’s board committee made decisions that will help young people in their district get the information and life skills they need to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

We look forward to the final approval of comprehensive sexuality education by the Mauston School District on September 20th as well as in the Wonewoc-Center, New Lisbon and Royall schools. These Juneau County schools received a memo from our legal department on Tuesday, September 7th refuting the claims by county district attorney Scott Southworth that teachers who provide a comprehensive human growth and development curriculum at their school could face prosecution.

Everyone can agree that our schools should make sure students get a quality education. After the passage of the Healthy Youth Act this year (find a PDF of the law online), schools will be held to a higher standard for helping young people get the facts about reproduction and health. This standard of instruction is important for the public health of Wisconsin communities, large and small.

Some community members in districts that are currently considering their options in regard to sex ed have expressed concerns with parts of the law that mention non-discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students and the law’s inclusion of the proper use of contraception. These concerns may be based on misinformation.

The law says that instruction must be non-discriminatory: teachers who use gender-neutral language or who don’t assume that all students in their classrooms are heterosexual are better able to effectively teach everyone in their class. And the proper use of contraception isn’t like a doctor’s visit: students should have basic instruction that is right for their age, that includes why and when people use contraception, and shares the facts about how contraceptive options work.

Parents and schools should remember that opt-out provisions still exist in the Healthy Youth Act. Parents who do not want their children to learn about contraception have the right to review the curriculum and work with their school to make alternate arrangements for their student. Schools should provide an adequate alternative lesson plan that ensures that the student will be treated with equality, dignity and respect for non-participation on that day.

Schools that have not yet confirmed that they will be teaching sex ed with a comprehensive, fact-based model have until September 30th to let parents know what will be taught. The Department of Public Instruction has excellent resources for administrators and parents who want to understand what the new law means for their local schools. The ACLU of Wisconsin also has resources on our youth rights issue page for parents to learn about what questions they have the right to ask about sex ed in their schools and for individuals who want to ensure that all students have access to comprehensive sex ed.

For the most current information and media coverage of the sex ed debate in Wisconsin, follow us on Twitter.

Schools Should Get Better Advice in Juneau County and Statewide, Says ACLU of WI

7 Apr

The district attorney in Juneau County, Wisconsin has made an ill-advised attack on Wisconsin’s newly passed comprehensive sexuality education law. The Healthy Youth Act raises the state standards for human growth and development curricula. But the letter from District Attorney Southworth erroneously compares teaching the facts about reproduction and contraception to the sexual assault of children. The letter says the new law exposes teachers to possible criminal liability, equates sex ed to endorsing controversial behavior (in other words, education that is non-discriminatory against LGBT students is the same as “instruction on homosexuality”), and may expose school districts to civil litigation.

ACLU of Wisconsin Responds
“District Attorney Southworth has taken it upon himself to threaten possible prosecution of public school teachers in the county if they implement the new standards that require medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty.

“Southworth says that accurate information encourages teens to have sex, but the new law actually requires teachers to inform their students that sex with a minor is illegal,” Ahmuty said. “He apparently believes that good teaching will contribute to the delinquency of a minor. The Healthy Youth Act on the other hand recognizes that, despite the best advice of teachers and parents, some teenagers will still have sex and it is best that they have accurate information, rather than unreliable information from peers or the internet.”

The Juneau County district attorney was quoted in newspaper articles that the new law is a “sick and shameful piece of legislation.” He also stated that the letter is simply a legal opinion to school districts. But the statement on his office’s letterhead is just that: a politically biased opinion. School leaders who seek more neutral legal advice on how to implement the new standards will learn that schools across the state of Wisconsin that already teach comprehensive sexuality education are not being charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors. The Wisconsin State Department of Public Education has issued a toolkit to help schools implement the new standards.

“School districts in Juneau County will be wiser if they listen to the guidance coming from the Department of Public Instruction on the new law and to their own teachers, principals, advisory councils and school attorneys,” said Ahmuty. “Parents may continue under the new law to withdraw their children from sex education.” Also under the law, schools are required to send a notice to parents if they decide not to teach human growth and development.

Media Coverage
The story hit the Associated Press wires across the state and included quotations from Pro-Life Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood. Articles were also featured in Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the CNN news blog, and Channel 3000 in Madison ran an interview with the DA this morning.

The blogosphere is likely to run with the story on both the pro and the con side: One Wisconsin Now featured a New Glarus blogger’s take: she writes, “According to a district attorney in northern Wisconsin, to teach a kid how to use a condom equates sexually assaulting said kid. I can’t even believe I typed that sentence, it’s so insane.” Another speechless blogger commented on the story on the Salon.com’s Broadsheet feminist blog.

Funding Available
And finally, as schools decry the lack of funding for public education and as Wisconsin residents watched yesterday’s election results that included many failed referenda for increasing school spending beyond local revenue caps, it is worth pointing out that the language of the law begins with the encouragement for Wisconsin to “apply for federal funds allocated to evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use, and reduce teen pregnancy.” The Obama administration’s Office of Adolescent Health just issued their call for proposals from schools to get federal funds for real sex ed.

If school leaders have questions on how to implement the new law, they should contact the Department of Public Instruction directly for answers to their questions, resources for parents, appropriate curricula suggestions and information on the studies that show how comprehensive sexuality education works to decrease teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates.

News roundup: Grothman not a fan of sex ed, medical marijuana in Berlin (WI), spying on abortion activists and more…

19 Feb

Here is some news you might have missed..

We got coverage on Milwaukee’s TMJ4 on the ACLU’s opposition to an effort by lawmakers to bar public disclosure of 911 calls. “The public deserves to get all the information with very limited exceptions,” said Christopher Ahmuty of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “Those exceptions should be done on the basis of a balancing test that’s in the current law now.”

Senator Glenn Grothman was a bit hit in the blogosphere when he said in a Cap Times interview that he didn’t approve of the comprehensive sex ed bill that’s headed to the Governor’s desk on Wednesday. It might have been his comments about how teasing feminine boys was normal at his high school that even got the attention of Perez Hilton. Note to all Wisconsin state legislators: bullying or discriminating against gay youth is NOT okay. (But it is okay to give the ACLU a shout out in Glee!)

Did you see the coverage of the medical marijuana advocacy event in Berlin, WI? Central Wisconsin folks asked if their medicine was legal yet. Another lobby day is scheduled at the Capitol on Wednesday. Contact IMMLY for details.

Madison city council alders are considering a parental responsibility law. The proposal is being pushed by the same folks who tried to keep kids inside earlier at last year’s curfew ordinance that the ACLU of Wisconsin helped to defeat. If you are a single mom who works three jobs to scrape by and your youngster gets a ticket for disorderly conduct at the bus transfer point, will you have time to go to court to deal with the fine in your name?

Speaking of Madisonians with limited income, we’ve been observing the housing issue around Shorewood Hills and the proposal to replace the nearly vacant Pyare Square building. Some residents of the affluent neighborhood complained about a large apartment complex that housed limited-income families, but developers tried to quell their fears by making the complex for seniors. Finally the whole project was scrapped due to the height of the building design. Whenever there are concerns about building affordable housing, our ears prick up mostly because of fights like what happened in South Milwaukee with the Lake Point Apartments.

Remember the dust up over anti-Hmong comments by a UW law professor? The dust hasn’t completely settled. Madison Hmong community leader is still asking questions about the Hmong studies program that was promised to be added to the university offerings.

The news broke that Homeland Security was working with Middleton police last year to spy on anti-abortion activists who were planning a big rally that would no doubt overwhelm the police resources. The news said that DHS investigated both prochoice and anti-abortion activists, but we haven’t heard from prochoicers about alleged probes. We’re a prochoice organization, but DHS can’t spy on activists. Period. Only when there is probable cause (i.e. evidence that’s more than a hunch that a crime will be committed) can an investigation legally be started. The feds admitted wrongly investigating the activists, but Middleton police aren’t turning over records and feds say they deleted copies of the assessment. Sorry Michele Malkin, we do care when government spies on First Amendment protected activity.

The ACLU’s Bill of Rights Celebration is tomorrow! Twitter fan? @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison will be live tweeting at the #BORC event! Follow us to hear more from blogger journalist @anamariecox!

ACLU of Wisconsin Applauds the Passage of the Healthy Youth Act

29 Jan

The ACLU of Wisconsin applauds the passage of the Healthy Youth Act, the legislation that will raise state standards for public school human growth and development instruction. The Healthy Youth Act will give Wisconsin teens the tools they need to make healthy and responsible life decisions by providing comprehensive sexuality education that is age appropriate and medically accurate.

“Our state legislators looked at the facts about current teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates in Wisconsin and took action in support of educating students,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “Armed with the facts about reproduction and how to protect themselves from risk, the Healthy Youth Act will help young people make healthier choices.”

The Healthy Youth Act will better honor equal protection, free speech and freedom of religion in our public schools. Students have the right to ask their teachers questions about reproduction and teachers should be able to answer them with age appropriate facts. Human growth and development curriculum on relationships and reproduction should recognize equality in gender and sexual orientation. Our schools should also respect religious diversity and this legislation ensures that curriculum will not promote a bias against religion. All parents will have the right to inspect teaching materials at any time and will continue to be able to take their children out of portions of the curriculum with which they disagree.

Comprehensive sexuality education enjoys a broad base of support including major medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Institute of Medicine. Comprehensive sex education is also supported by major educational organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association. More than 85 percent of Americans support school-based sexuality education programs that teach students how to use and where to get contraceptives.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has approximately 8,000 members who support its efforts to defend the civil liberties and civil rights of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today and help us fight for civil liberties in Wisconsin.

Healthy Youth Act Passes the State Senate on Party-Line Vote

28 Jan

The Healthy Youth Act has passed the state Senate! Raising the state standards on human growth and development curriculum to be more comprehensive and fact-based is one step closer to law in Wisconsin.

On an 18 to 15 party-line vote, the Senate passed a bill that is very similar to the Assembly version. A unanimous amendment added language that would teach students about statutory rape laws and sex offenses. The bill will go back to the Assembly for a vote and then on to the Governor to sign.

The Healthy Youth Alliance, a coalition of individuals and organizations including the ACLU of Wisconsin, encourages voters to contact their Senators to comment on how they voted.

Ayes:
Carpenter, Coggs, Erpenbach, Hansen, Holperin, Jauch, Kreitlow, Lassa, Lehman, Miller, Plale, Risser, Robson, Sullivan, Taylor, Vinehout, Wirch

Nays:
Cowles, Darling, Ellis, Fitzgerald, Grothman, Harsdorf, Hopper, Kanavas, Kapanke, Kedzie, Lasee, Lazich, Leibham, Olsen, Schultz

The Healthy Youth Alliance maintains that the Healthy Youth Act is a commonsense measure to improve the health of young people throughout Wisconsin. The bill requires Wisconsin schools that choose to teach sex education provide students with comprehensive information about healthy relationships and preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs.

If schools teach sex education, it must include medically accurate and age-appropriate information about abstinence, birth control and barrier methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs. They must also teach teens about the life skills they need to say no to sex, to insist on contraception, and to communicate with parents and other trusted adults about these issues.

Thanks to all the ACLU members and supporters who called in with their support! Stay tuned to Cap City Liberty or to our Twitterfeed for more action alerts on civil liberties related issues in Wisconsin.

Action Alert: Call Your State Senator NOW and Say YES to the Healthy Youth Act!

27 Jan

Take action today in support of the Healthy Youth Act! The comprehensive sexuality education bill is scheduled to be voted on by the state Senate Thursday/tomorrow which is the last step before it is signed into law by the Governor!

Tweet this alert or put it in your Facebook status update: Call your Wisconsin State Senator NOW and say YES to the Healthy Youth Act http://bit.ly/9IQXBz

FAQ:
Where do I call?
The hotline to contact your state Senator is 1-800-362-9472. The hotline is open during regular business hours. You can also find your Senator’s contact information on-line.

Who is my state Senator?
Look up your Senate rep on-line with your address.

What do I say?
Tell your Senator that you support the Healthy Youth Act (SB 324), which would raise the state standards on human growth and development classes in our schools.
***Remember to leave your name and address so they know you are a constituent.
***You can read more about what the ACLU of Wisconsin said about the bill on our blog.

Why now?
By a 4 to 3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed the Healthy Youth Act (AB 458 version) this morning. This excellent news means that the bill is scheduled for a full floor vote in the Senate tomorrow (Thursday, 1/28). The state Assembly already debated and passed their version – the Senate will take it up for debate and if passed is expected to be signed into law by Governor Doyle.

Read more on the increase in sexually transmitted disease and infection rates in Wisconsin, especially among teens.

Cap Times: Sexually Transmitted Disease Rates Spike, Education Needed

7 Jan

On January 5, 2010, the Capitol Times ran a story on the epidemic rates of sexually transmitted disease and infection in Wisconsin. The article offers explanations for why STIs are spiking, especially among teens, and it looks at the cultural clash between pro-education and abstinence-only proponents.

The numbers are shocking. The article states that:

“One in four teenage girls in the U.S. has an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Wisconsin, the rate of four of the most commonly reported STDs among teens jumped 53 percent between 1997 and 2007. Females and minorities, especially African-Americans, have been hit hard. And these are numbers that have been reported; actual cases may be much higher. But it remains a hidden epidemic, not just because many STDs have no symptoms, but because of the stigma and politics that complicate efforts to fight them.”

It isn’t a coincidence that this spike in STI rates neatly matches the increase in federal funding for abstinence-only education in public schools. In 1996, Title V of the Welfare Reform Act (called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) set aside federal matching funds for states – schools could get much needed funds, but they had to teach abstinence rather than comprehensive sexuality education. No education equals no tools to understand how pregnancy works and how STIs are spread. In Wisconsin, Governor Doyle rejected abstinence-only money, but our public schools still aren’t treating education about STIs as a core public health need.

But with a new Obama administration, help is on the way. Last month, Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010. In signing this bill, President Obama will eliminate funding for existing abstinence-only programs, fund comprehensive sex ed, and even establish and fund the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) within Health and Human Services (HHS) which will treat sex ed as a part of protecting our nation’s public health.

This long-awaited step will be the nail in the coffin of abstinence-only: its ineffective withholding of truth to young people, its wasted tax-payer money, its thinly-veiled religious indoctrination in our public schools and its sexist reliance on ancient gender stereotypes. Proponents of abstinence-only education are going to fight back against this defeat with a vengeance, but Wisconsin is set to battle ignorance with education. It’s called the Healthy Youth Act. It would raise state standards for sex ed to be complete, medically accurate, peer-reviewed and age-appropriate. And it will finally be federally funded. Now is the time for Wisconsin legislators to pass this bill.

This crisis of teen reproductive health is huge. It’s cultural. It’s financial. It’s systemic. But any public health care worker will tell you that for all the talk about health care reform and tax-dollar funded Medicaid programs, the first step in having healthy teens and a healthier country is education. Tell our state legislators to pass the Healthy Youth Act immediately in 2010.

Take action on the Healthy Youth Act! Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin have set up a web page with details on the bill, tools to contact your legislator, and write a letter to the editor. Please take action on this issue today.

We blogged about the Healthy Youth Act on World AIDS Day, after the state Assembly passed the bill, and when the bill was first introduced.

World AIDS Day Commemorated Internationally, Education Needed in Wisconsin

1 Dec

Today is World AIDS Day and in Wisconsin, as is the case across the globe, more work needs to be done to address not just the need for greater medical advances to treat and cure the disease, but also to work through litigation, advocacy and education to stop the stigma that people with HIV and AIDS live with every day. The World Health Organization founded the commemorative day in 1988, but two years earlier, the ACLU’s national AIDS Project was started to fight discrimination against people in employment, housing and public access to accommodations.
The ACLU of Wisconsin has worked with the national ACLU’s AIDS Project on discrimination issues in our own state. But one bill in front of the Wisconsin legislature could make a difference in education about and prevention of HIV at a root level.

The Healthy Youth Act would raise the state standards on how public school students are taught about reproduction, contraceptives and protection against sexually transmitted infections. The bill would be a great step forward in educating young people about how important it is to make healthy choices about sex and why knowing your HIV status through testing is at the core of preventing the further spread of the virus.

For more information on the Healthy Youth Act, check out or recent blog post on the issue. Or view a video posted today of an interview with ACLU attorney and advocate Rose Saxe on the advances the ACLU is making on behalf of HIV positive people across the country.