Wisconsin’s new standards for sex education are in the cross hairs at the Capitol. Legislation which would significantly revise provisions of the Healthy Youth Act is being offered by New Berlin Republican state Senator Mary Lazich. Lazich said the intent is to return the development of school human growth and development curriculum to local control. “The school district gets to make those decisions,” Lazich told a crowded public hearing on Wednesday. “So, MPS, Milwaukee, they might have a human growth and development curriculum that is very much different from Spooner.”
AUDIO: State Senator Mary Lazich (3:28)
Lazich said districts like Milwaukee won’t have to change their curriculum. “MPS can continue to teach that curriculum that they believe is successful. We’re not forcing them to abandon that curriculum.” The bill (SB 237) would allow school districts to return to abstinence based programs if that’s what the community wants. Milwaukee Democrat, Senator Chris Larson, questioned language in the bill which refers to abstinence as the only effective means to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. “When you end saying it’s the only effective way without saying it’s the most effective way, the problem you have with that is if you’re teaching children that, then they end up thinking “well that’s the only way. If I’m going to have sex, condoms can’t protect me, other forms of birth control can’t protect me, why would I those at all, because they’re not effective.””
“We’ve had a lot of Republican-Democrat differences up here this year, I thought we might agree on whether or not teenagers are sexually active or not,” said Senator Tim Cullen, a Janesville Democrat, who asked Lazich whether she taught abstinence was “a more popular route” in some school districts. “I can’t answer that question, because I don’t have the empirical data on that,” said Lazich.
“I can tell you that from my Madison community, early sexual activity amongst children is very significantly reduced, and abstinence training works,” said Syte Reitz. “But you have to train them.” Reitz said she home-schooled her two sons, both of whom are now enrolled at UW Madison. A different perspective was offered by Dr. Paula Cody, who works with adolescent moms in inner city Milwaukee. “The youngest mom that I’ve taken care of is eleven. She was pregnant at 10, delivered at 11,” said Cody. “We need to start (sex ed) young, we need to start often, and it needs to be medically accurate.”
Representative Tamara Grigsby, a Milwaukee Democrat who authored the original Healthy Youth Act legislation, also testified against Lazich’s bill. “We’re looking at partisan politics here, and radical agendas,” Grigsby said. The Healthy Youth Act has not yet been in place for a year: then Governor Jim Doyle signed the measure into law in February of 2010. The legislation drew strong Republican opposition at the time.