Part 1: Sex education in Oregon: is it working?

Medford, Ore. — Oregon is ranked nationally when it comes to reproductive health and rights. The state was one of only 5 in the country to receive an “A” in The Population Institutes annual report card, specifically citing Oregon’s comprehensive sex education in schools. Still, the state has an above average teen pregnancy rate, that’s even higher in counties in southern Oregon. This week, in an NBC5 News special report we’re looking at teen pregnancy in the valley, and how schools and local organizations are working to keep those numbers in decline.

Teen pregnancy is a reality more teens will face in southern Oregon than in other parts of the state and the country, reality Dr. Tamara Medley witnesses first-hand.

“For the year of 2016 I was able to see we delivered more than 70 teens, and that’s from age 15 all the way to age 19,” Dr. Tamara Medley says, “and I think that’s a very, very high number considering that we only do about 800 deliveries a year.”

According to the most recent state data from 2016:  the average teen pregnancy rate in Oregon for girls ages 15 to 17, is 9.6 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls. The average is higher in Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath counties, with rates of 11.3, 11-.1, and 18.2 pregnancies per 1,000.

If you include data all the way up to age 19, Jackson County Health Promotion Manger, Tanya Phillips, says the gaps get even bigger.

“Looking at where the state is, and where Jackson County is, it’s about a 26% difference,” Phillips says.

The reasons why are hard to identify. National trends point to poverty, access to healthcare, education and family well-being as contributing factors.

The ways to prevent teen pregnancy, are more clear.

“The things that we know prevent teen pregnancies,” Jessica Duke, with Oregon Health Authority says, “is making sure that youth have accurate information, and making sure that youth have access to the health services that they need.”

Both of those components should be  being addressed in Oregon classrooms. The state has one of the leading sex education policies in the country, so what’s missing?

“If you’re looking at policy and state level stuff, we’re ahead of the pack,” Ely Sanders of Oregon Department of Education says, “I think we lose ground when we look at implementation.”

In Jackson County, there are only a few educators specifically trained in sex education. 2 at Planned Parenthood, and 1 with the county. Both agencies pull from curricula that’s been tested extensively, and has proven success.

“It gives youth the opportunity to make informed decisions,” health educator, Nancy McKinnis says.

“There’s a correlation between comprehensive sex ed, access to birth control, you’re gonna see those teen pregnancy rates go down, you’re gonna see teen STI rates go down,” Sky Loos of Planned Parenthood says.

But not all curriculum is created equal, and some say that’s putting southern Oregon students at risk.

“They aren’t necessarily giving the students all the information they need,” Loos says.

So what’s being taught in your child’s classroom? Coming up Friday, on NBC5 News at 6 we’ll look at what the Oregon state standards for sex ed are. Is the curriculum working, and could it be better? The answers Friday at 6 only on NBC5 News.

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