ACLU Hails Rhode Island Department of Education Efforts to Stop the Use of Harmful "Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage" Curriculum in Public Schools

March 22, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact: Lorraine Kenny, Nat'l ACLU, 212-549-2634;
Steven Brown, RI ACLU, 401-831-7171

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Responding to a complaint filed by the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union last September, the state's Department of Education (DOE) issued an advisory to all school districts last week, instructing them to stop using a federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum in the public schools. Today the ACLU hailed the development, arguing that the curriculum had raised serious privacy and discrimination concerns and needed to be stopped.

"We are very pleased with the state's response to the inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars to support discriminatory and religious teachings in public schools," said Steven Brown, Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director. "Students deserve facts, not sexism, in their sex ed classes."

The curriculum, developed by Heritage of Rhode Island and called "Right Time, Right Place," was offered in Pawtucket and Woonsocket public schools last year. In letters sent to the DOE Commissioner Peter McWalters, the ACLU argued that the program, run by a private organization, promoted sexist stereotypes, ignored the state's comprehensive sex education standards, invaded students' privacy rights and endorsed particular religious views. The DOE said in its advisory that after review by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Heritage of Rhode Island curriculum had been "determined to be NOT consistent with the Rhode Island Health Education Standards."

In addition to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Rhode Island, federal dollars support Heritage curricula, a product of the South Carolina-based Heritage Community Services organization, in Georgia, Kentucky, Maine and South Carolina.

After obtaining documents relating to the program, the ACLU pointed out to the Commissioner that, among other things, the curriculum: taught students that "girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn't invite lustful thoughts," and that a man is "strong" and "courageous," while a "real woman" is "caring"; included a video whose host explains how abstinence helped him to "honor my relationship with Jesus"; and required students to complete a survey, while providing identifying information about themselves, that asked a series of personal questions, including "When was the last time you had sex?"

Arguing that this curriculum appeared to "undermine or contradict - rather than supplement - statewide anti-discrimination policies or comprehensive sex education mandates," the ACLU called on the DOE to determine how and where the curriculum was being used elsewhere in Rhode Island, and to advise school officials of its illegality. The two-page advisory sent by the Commissioner last week makes clear that "Right Time, Right Place" is not appropriate for use as part of public school health curricula. The advisory also requires all school districts in the state to submit a copy of their school health education curriculum for the Department's review.

"Programs like Heritage of Rhode Island subject students to an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum that is both ineffective and harmful," said Jennifer McAllister-Nevins, State Strategies Attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Teens need information on how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and STDs - they don't need sex education riddled with inaccuracies and gender stereotypes."

The Rhode Island ACLU's efforts to stop the misuse of public dollars to fund ineffective, medically inaccurate, and discriminatory abstinence-only-until marriage sex ed programs in their state is part of a national ACLU campaign, Not in My State. In September 2005, ACLU affiliates in 18 states called on local officials to keep unsafe abstinence-only-until-marriage programs out of public schools' classrooms. The campaign encourages officials to select health and life-skills curricula that present medically accurate, age-appropriate, and unbiased information about sex and sexuality. For more information, go to: www.takeissuetakecharge.org

Since 1997, the federal government has spent nearly a billion dollars on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Yet research indicates that many such programs do not help teens delay having sex, and some studies show that these programs actually deter teens from protecting themselves from unintended pregnancy or disease when they start having sex.

The full text of the DOE's advisory can be found at: www.riaclu.org/documents/DOEHeritageadvisory.pdf

The Rhode Island ACLU's letter sent to the DOE in September 2005 can be found at: www.riaclu.org/documents/sex_ed_letter.pdf
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