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Is the Central Valley's approach to sex ed boosting teen birth and STD rates?

Is the Central Valley's approach to sex ed boosting teen birth and STD rates?

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Cropped photo by romana klee via Flickr

Teen birth rates in California and across the country are on the decline, but the Central Valley continues to have some of the highest numbers in the state. For years, some of the Valley’s school districts were reluctant to teach medically accurate sex education and have failed to provide services that would allow teen mothers to succeed.

While a new law requires school districts to teach comprehensive, unbiased sex education, critics worry that Valley teens still won’t get the support they need to prevent teen pregnancy, putting some of the state’s most vulnerable youth further at risk.

The Fresno area has a complicated history with sex education. In 2011, Fresno Unified stopped teaching the only class that covered sex education due to budget cuts. At neighboring Clovis Unified, a Fresno County judge ruled in 2015 that the district had for years failed to adequately teach sex education, failing to include lessons on sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention. The judge ruled the district was also guilty of “promoting and reinforcing bias in gender and sexual orientation.” The American Civil Liberties Union became involved in that case and asserted that the district’s high school curriculum provided no information about how to prevent STDs and taught abstinence only, showing students a video “that compared a woman who was not a virgin to a dirty shoe.”

In the past year, Fresno Unified — the state’s fourth-largest school district — has had to make changes to its sex ed policy, and some school leaders have voiced their concerns about the California Healthy Youth Act, a state bill signed into law in 2015, arguing that its requirements are too progressive. The law mandates schools teach students about “all legally available pregnancy outcomes” including abortion, and requires lessons to cover all sexual orientations.

But the data makes clear that the Valley is not catching up to the rest of the state when it comes to effective birth control for teens. Fresno County has the sixth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, while nearby Tulare and Madera counties rank third and fourth-highest. Fresno County also ranks among the highest for STD rates — another topic that is supposed to be taught in sex education classes. According to a report in 2016, the county has the second-highest rates in California when it comes to syphilis and chlamydia, and third for gonorrhea.

These areas are some of the state’s poorest, where a majority of teen moms are Latina. For my 2017 California Fellowship project, I plan to travel to rural communities and school districts to investigate their approach to sex education, as well as shadow local teen moms at different stages of parenthood. I also want to talk to former teen moms about their past experiences.

This project will combine a focus on education policy, politics and health, with on-the-ground reporting. How have barriers to comprehensive sex ed created problems for poor teen mothers? How is the health of a young mother — and her child — impacted when prenatal healthcare is not readily accessible? How do politics and a community’s ideology impact a teen mother’s decisions about her body? These are some of the tough questions I’m hoping to tackle with this project.

[Cropped photo by romana klee via Flickr.]


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This is a wonderful article, as a Latina raised in the Central Valley (Born in Kern, raised in Tulare county) I would love to learn more about your project and make any contribution, if possible.

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My name is Bernardino and my project is about teen pregnancy in tulare county and the reason i'm doing this is because i am very curious of why and how the teen pregnancy rate so high in tulare im in 8th grade my school is named sycamore valley academy i i got to choose this topic to talk about.
I have been recently been researching about teen pregnancy in tulare county and the average rate of teen pregnancy is about 75% in tulare county my perspective from this and why theatre is so high is because there religion say someone is christian or chaloc there idea of when they have sex is to recreate and make a bigger population and like i said that could be the religion of that young teen through the age 15-19 or that's one of my ideas my second one is it could of been the lack of sex ed taught in schools and which didn't tell kids what happens when that stuff happens and there quite a lot of bad things that they either can't afford to take care of the child and have abortion or have it get adopted because they can't pay for its needs or that person can just be a high school drop out and have a messed up life because they didn't go to high school and they can't take care of a child.There could be many reasons why the teen pregnancy rate is so high it could be the condoms are not that protective and they are not working right.I was wondering if there was anything that you could know or give me any ideas of why the rate is so high i would really appreciate it if you replied back and gave me any ideas that could help my research or my topic so i can get into more detail and find out why teen pregnancy in tulare county is one of the highest in california and to see if you know the answer to my question if not u can just try to give me some ideas or some facts that i can use.


The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.

The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 Symposium on Domestic Violence provides reporters with a roadmap for covering this public health epidemic with nuance and sensitivity. The next session will be offered virtually on Friday, March 31. Journalists attending the symposium will be eligible to apply for a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000 from our Domestic Violence Impact Reporting Fund. Find more info here!


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