Valley News – Shaheen seeks federal funds after the Executive Board cut funding for sex education

Editor’s note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

CONCORD — After the Executive Board voted Tuesday to eliminate funding for a sex education program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy, a spokeswoman for Senator Jeanne Shaheen said she is working to replace the funding. Democratic counselor Cindy Warmington said she is talking to the full federal delegation to do the same.

“These programs help teens stay healthy by providing basic sex education, and they should not be politicized,” Shaheen spokesperson Sam Paisley said in an email.

The delegation intervened in a similar way earlier this year when it secured $1.42 million for low-cost reproductive health care after the Executive Board voted to cut that funding.

In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the board rejected two contracts that fund an out-of-school sex education program for ten years.

After the vote, a spokesperson for Amoskeag Health in Manchester, one of the two organizations selected by the state to teach the sex education curriculum, said they would have to end their program without a government contract. The TLC Family Resource Center in Claremont could not be reached immediately, but Executive Director Stephanie Slayton told the Bulletin in October that she had already canceled sex education classes in the fall and would have to cancel the remaining classes without funding.

Only Warmington and Republican counselor Janet Stevens voted for the $682,000 funding. The vote came a few weeks after members of the Republican House voted for the fourth time to postpone the vote. They have raised concerns about parental involvement, and what they see as inappropriate content, including defining abstinence as only sexual activity that can lead to pregnancy.

“It is outrageous that these programs are on the verge of closure because of the Republican-controlled Executive Board’s extremist ideology and poor understanding of reproductive health,” Paisley said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services contracts with Amoskeag Health and the TLC Family Resource Center because teen pregnancy rates in their communities, 18 per 1,000 teens in Manchester, and 14 per 1,000 in Sullivan County, are nearly three times higher than the state’s 5.4%. modified.

The Personal Responsibility Education Program, which has been around for a decade, addresses sexual abstinence, the reproductive process, sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity, relationship skills and decision-making, among other topics.

The program differs from the sex education curriculum taught in public schools and is available to people between the ages of 10 and 19 and pregnant women or parents up to the age of 21. The curriculum targets at-risk youth, including those living in homeless and care shelters who have been victims of human trafficking.

The three council members who voted against the contracts on Tuesday, David Wheeler, Ted Gatsas and Joe Kenny, previously voted in favor. Kenney said Tuesday he doesn’t think the current contract is “exactly” the one he voted for several years ago, but he didn’t identify the discrepancies by the deadline.

Wheeler, Kenny and Gatsas did not mention their objections to the funding during Tuesday’s meeting. In interviews afterward, Wheeler and Kenny said they believed the program restricted parental involvement, and cited concerns about the appropriateness of the material taught.

After the meeting, the two said they asked the Education Department to revise the curriculum; Wheeler said he wanted an alternative that “respects the position of the parents in the family as the leader of the family.”

In an email, Department of Education spokeswoman Kimberly Hutton said the department has held informal talks with board members, but has not yet received a formal request for a curriculum review. “Once a formal request is made, it (the department) will define the scope and process for the review, including the next steps,” it said.

Parents must give their children permission to participate, but according to Wheeler, the curriculum states that information students share during the program will be kept confidential. (The state Department of Health and Human Services provided the curriculum to board members, but told the Bulletin that it had no right to share proprietary materials otherwise.)

Wheeler and Kenny said they have asked the Department of Education to review the school curricula for age-appropriateness and to identify alternative curricula. Wheeler said he wanted the administration to “know what respects parents’ status as the leader of the family.”

Wheeler also cited objections to the definition of abstinence in the curriculum, which was developed by the Planned Parenthood Association of Massachusetts. He said it only includes sexual activity that can lead to pregnancy. “I think what’s deceitful about this approach is that they present it as an abstinence-based program,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think this is abstinence.”

Kinney said he does not object to sex education for high school students but also has concerns about offering it to middle school students.

“I think the curricula should be age-appropriate,” he said. “We all took biology lessons as sophomores. We all took sex education through biology class. The girls and boys were in separate places and the teacher explained to them about birds and bees and so on.”

Kenny said he believed students were exposed to inappropriate “lewd” material at an early age, and said elements of the curriculum concerned him. When asked for examples, Kenny referred the reporter to Wheeler.

“Children grow up so quickly and are exposed to a lot during those formative years that they have to focus on their school, their friends, their community, athletics and their social interactions,” he said. “This is where the focus should be.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Liz Canada, director of advocacy for Planned Parenthood in northern New England and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said the vote threatens the state’s health outcomes.

“Public officials must work together to ensure that New Hampshire residents have the support, resources, education and health care they need to make the best decisions for their lives and their families,” Canada said. “However, the majority of the council is focused solely on taking reproductive health care away from the Granite Staters, as evidenced by this vote to defund sex education and four previous votes to defund family planning programs covering birth control, cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment.” .

Canada continued: “By eliminating Planned Parenthood and denying routine funding for after-school sex education, the Executive Board continues to jeopardize New Hampshire’s ability to lower rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state at a time when the landscape of reproductive health care across the country is in disarray over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

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