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Editorial: Teen pregnancy rates in Falls mean better sex ed is needed

Yes. Please, just say yes. Students in Niagara Falls are clamoring for more and better sex education and, given the alarming rates of teenage pregnancy there, school leaders should be rushing to comply. Abstinence-only education does not do the job.

Nearly 10 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 in the western half of Niagara Falls were pregnant in 2014, according to the state Health Department. That’s nearly five times the 2015 national average of 2.2 percent. That’s an unfolding crisis.

This isn’t the 1950s. Teens and younger children continually are bombarded with sexual imagery and messages. They already know too much and too little about sex, and that puts them at risk. Indeed, not to have sex must be a strange idea in the pervasive, sex-drenched environment of today.

Responding to that onslaught requires more than merely proposing abstinence. It demands facts: about birth control, about sexually transmitted diseases and about the responsibilities of parenthood and the limitations imposed by it, over the short and long terms, especially on young people with little or no money. It’s up to adults to provide those facts.

Abstinence can, and should continue to be, a part of the package. For some, it may be all the armor they need to resist the temptations thrust upon them. But it has been unequivocally and disastrously proven that it isn’t enough.

It is encouraging that the push for more comprehensive sex education came not from school administrators, but from students. They see the consequences of the hope-and-a-prayer approach that describes abstinence-only. They see that students are having sex and become pregnant at alarming rates. Part of that is because they are engaging in sexual activity without understanding how to protect themselves or the lifelong costs of failing to do so.

Fortunately, the students have an ally in Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie. While he doesn’t support a program such as the one in Buffalo, where school nurses distribute condoms, he wants to ask the Community Health Center of Buffalo to park a van at the high school. There, a doctor and a nurse could not only offer contraceptives to students, but provide more comprehensive health care.
“Our students do not go to the doctor or the dentist as often as they should,” Laurrie said. “It’s not just a sexual health issue. It’s an overall health issue.”

Under his plan, the center’s vans would park at the high school and maybe its prep schools – that is, junior high schools – two or three days a week, offering care at no cost to students. He also wants to hire a health teacher to make the rounds of the district’s elementary schools to instruct fifth- and sixth-graders on “healthy behavior and healthy choices.” We only hope that’s not too late to start that kind of education.

School districts around the country have been pressured for years to restrict sex education to abstinence-only on the misguided theory that information about contraception will encourage students to experiment with sex. They already are experimenting. It’s a failed strategy and the sooner school leaders and communities acknowledge that, the fewer students will prematurely become parents or acquire sexually transmitted diseases. Among the many benefits of that healthy development is that more students will graduate, form stable families and become contributors to their communities.

Talking about sex to teenagers isn’t easy for many adults, including parents. That’s a shame, and they, too, could benefit from a different kind of sex education. In the meantime, the Niagara Falls School Board should approve this plan at next month’s meeting. That would allow the program to begin no later than March.

It’s an urgent matter because, in the meantime, more students will get pregnant.

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