The OPS school district in Omaha Nebraska held a public meeting to address changes to the ‘Sex Ed’ curriculum last week. Over 1500 people showed up for the meeting which had to be cut short because of disrespectful language and shouting from parents, most notorious was a woman now dubbed the #puritymom who yelled her disapproval at the thought of the school changing or improving the sex ed curriculum for her children. Omaha Public Schools haven’t changed their sex ed curriculum in 30 years.
Now let’s rewind a little bit, I want to share some statistics from the Douglas County Health Department, (www.douglascountyhealth.com › Health Statistics) Douglas County is the county responsible for the large majority of the OPS population. In the year 2000, 1,962 cases of Chlamydia were reported but in 2014 3,390 cases. Gonorrhea 1,161 cases in 2000 and 961 in 2014, Herpes 476 in 2000 and 321 in 2014. Syphilis 2 in 2000 and 37 in 2014. So while the numbers reflect the general trend of these communicable diseases each year, notice that the two that show a decrease from 2000 to 2014, have only decreased by a very small margin while the ones that show an increase have increased by a lot. Furthermore 15-24 year olds make up the bulk of Chlamydia cases in Douglas county, with 15-19 year olds making up 26.5% and 20-24 year olds making up 38.2% of all reported cases.
African Americans make up 37.4% of all cases while whites make up 36.3%, one thing we have to remember is that African Americans only make up 4.7% of the Omaha population which makes these numbers very problematic. Many of the parents present and in protest at the meeting happened to be African American. To me this knowledge alone is heartbreaking. While my children do not attend Omaha Public Schools as we live in a different county, I am a product of a teenage pregnancy. My mother had me at 16 and I know for a fact that this changed the entire course of her life. I wish that during her time comprehensive sex education had been part of her education. I remember growing up as a young girl in Zimbabwe with very little knowledge about my own body let alone other people’s bodies. I was so confused about not only my changing body but even my sexual identity. While I had known at a very young age that I had an attraction to females, nobody had ever given me the language to name what I was experiencing or to even tell me that it was perfectly normal. I remember feeling so ashamed when I started growing breasts, I started wearing oversized shirt that could hide my budding chest and when my menstruation began way sooner than I had been told it would at 12, I concealed it in shame and used very unsanitary methods to cope. Comprehensive sex education would have helped me tremendously just with understanding my own body. I grew up not knowing that people can identify differently from the gender they are born as, I did not know that heterosexuality was not the only way to identify sexually and this led to years of personal confusion and frustration. LGBTQ youths have the highest rates of suicide among all youths, surely comprehensive sex education can help reduce these numbers. If kids are not getting empowering information at home, then school should be the place that information comes from.
I want my two children ages 11 and 9 to have a different and more informed transition to teenagehood than I did. I have no idea why any parent would vote for less education for their child regardless of what the subject of discussion is. Our children are better off empowered and knowledgeable about their bodies. Many of the parents that showed up at the OPS meeting seemed to support ‘Abstinence’ Only sex education which has already been proven over and over again not to work. Research shows that places that implement comprehensive sex ed have lower teenage pregnancy rates, lower STD rates, lower sexual assault rapes. By the end of elementary school, most kids have already viewed porn due to the availability of the internet to children in this generation. Making sure kids never learn about sex sends a clear message that kids can’t talk to their parents, so if they are sexually abused they will keep the abuser’s secret. If they develop a yeast infection or urinary tract infection they will be too ashamed to get help.
But there is an even bigger issue at hand, specifically in regards to race and sexually transmitted diseases. African Americans are dying due to HIV related illness at double the rate of whites and hispanics combined. So when a school district that is responsible for educating the majority of African American students in a city like Omaha faces such challenges from parents who are not informed, the repercussions go far beyond just a ‘school issue’, it affects future outcomes. African Americans already have the highest teenage pregnancy rates, highest infant mortality rates and highest STD infection rates in America as a whole. As a black mother with African American children who are growing up in Omaha’s surrounding area I would like to see progress in this area. I urge all of us to be more informed regarding comprehensive sex ed, because it matters and does affect our very children’s future!