- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

CLARKSDALE, Miss. (AP) - A little more than a year has passed since the adoption of an abstinence-plus policy in all three Coahoma County school districts, and teachers and students who have participated in the program, say they are seeing benefits.

A 2011 law required every school district in the state to adopt either “abstinence-only” or an “abstinence-plus” sex education curriculum.

Abstinence-plus allows for the teaching of not only abstinence, but information on condoms, other forms of birth control, STDs, and even date rape and how to say “no.”

Linda Downing, curriculum director for Clarksdale Municipal School District, and Lisa Ross, a teacher at Oakhurst Intermediate School, “were the preliminary implementers on the district level,” said Downing.

“This is the second year that our district has implemented the program,” Downing said. “Most of the facilitators were health, science or physical education teachers.”

CHART (Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens) is a program created by Mississippi First, which works together with the state Department of Health “to reduce teen pregnancy, improve teen sexual health and increase responsible decision-making,” according to the CHART website.

The middle-school curriculum, called “Drawing the Line/Respecting the Line,” is taught in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades; the high school curriculum, “Reducing the Risk,” is taught in the ninth grade.

“Before I came to Oakhurst, I was at the high school for a number of years, I would see girls having babies and girls who were sexually active and wanted information,” Ross said. “We don’t encourage them to use contraceptives, but let them know it’s out there.”

Students in grades six through eight don’t learn about sex in their curriculum. It’s more about teaching youngsters how to say no, especially when offered alcohol or cigarettes.

“Refusal skills, that’s the biggie here, at this level,” Ross said.

One Clarksdale High School student who took sex-education in ninth grade definitely sees the benefits of it.

“Even I thought I knew everything about sex and I’ve been learning,” said T’Keyah Burnett, a CHS tenth-grader. “They came in and talked about everything and it got pretty graphic, especially when they talked about diseases.

They talked about puberty, and then part of the abstinence-plus program that they talk about is birth control and condoms and preventions. Then they go on to tell you to prevent it all with just abstinence,” Burnett said.

Dotterra Lofton, a 10th-grader at Coahoma County High School, however, has had a different experience. She said she didn’t take any classes like that in the ninth grade, and she said she transferred to the county from CHS she was in Burnett’s grade.

“No, we don’t talk about sex,” Lofton said.

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