MADISON, Wisc. – A district attorney is telling Juneau County schools to abandon their sex education courses, saying a new curriculum law could lead to criminal charges against teachers for contributing to the delinquency of minors.
Starting in the fall, the new law requires schools that have sex education programs to tell students how to use condoms and other contraceptives. Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said such education encourages sex among children, which is illegal, and could lead to charges against teachers.
The new law “promotes the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children,” Southworth wrote in a March 24 letter to officials in five school districts. He urged the districts to suspend their sex education programs and transfer their curriculum on anatomy to a science course.
“Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender,” he wrote. “It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks.”
Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison), who helped write the new law, said Southworth’s letter was irresponsible and that it was laughable to think teachers could be charged for telling students how to use contraception.
“Using condoms isn’t a crime for anyone,” she said. “This guy is not a credible legal source on this matter, I’m sorry to say. His purpose is to intimidate and create enough panic in the minds of school administrators that they’ll turn their backs on young people and their families.”
She said the Legislature passed the law because comprehensive sex education is the most effective way to change sexual behavior and reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Caught in the middle are schools, said Tom Andres, superintendent of the New Lisbon School District.
“Here we are again – short of money, getting a dictate that we have to do something different from two different sources,” he said.
Andres said district officials are studying Southworth’s letter and will consider it in the coming months as they decide what to do.
“The challenge with it is as soon as you start discussions with this issue, the morality aspect, the spiritual aspect .â€‚.â€‚. the family aspect has to be weighed,” he said. “We don’t sit here and condone premature sexual behavior, yet it’s a societal reality. So how do we deal with it?”
When the new law was approved, all Republicans in the Assembly and Senate voted against it. Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, signed it in February.
The law requires schools that have sex education courses to teach students medically accurate, age-appropriate information, including how to use birth control and prevent sexually transmitted disease. It also requires the classes to include information about how to recognize signs of abuse and how alcohol can affect decision making.
The classes also must inform students that teenagers who have sex can wind up on the state’s sex offender registry because sex with children 16 or younger is a crime.
Under the law, parents can remove their children from sex education classes as they could before. Schools also would be allowed to not offer sex education, but they would have to notify parents they did not offer such courses.
“What we are asking educators to do is provide information,” said Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), who helped write the law. “In no way is that encouraging sex.”
Southworth, a Republican, says in his letter that he could charge teachers with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, depending on the specifics of cases he reviews.
“If a teacher instructs any student aged 16 or younger how to utilize contraceptives under circumstances where the teacher knows the child is engaging in sexual activity with another child – or even where the ‘natural and probable consequences’ of the teacher’s instruction is to cause that child to engage in sexual intercourse with a child – that teacher can be charged under this statute” of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, he wrote.
He said the law went too far because it required teachers not to teach students about the effects of birth control, but on how to properly use them, “which turns objective instruction into implicit encouragement and advocacy.”
Southworth said in an interview that he couldn’t say how likely he would be to file charges if districts taught sex education under the new law because it would depend on the specifics of any case.
“I’m not looking to charge any teachers,” he said. “I’ve got enough work to do.”
He disputed claims by Roys and Grigsby that he was inciting fear in teachers or trying to promote his political views, saying he had an ethical obligation to tell districts his interpretation of the law.
“If I’d wanted to be ideological, I would have said in the letter you shouldn’t have sex before marriage because that’s the Christian perspective. I’m an evangelical,” Southworth said.
Southworth’s letter says the law undermines parental authority and requires schools to condone controversial sexual behavior because they have to teach students about gender stereotypes. That likely would require schools to teach students about homosexuality and transgender and transsexual people, he said.
He said the law prevents teachers from telling students “that sexual promiscuity is even wrong” and would conflict with most students’ and teachers’ religious beliefs.
He said the law also opened the door to having sex eduction taught by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which provides contraception and abortions and lobbied for the changes.
Chris Taylor, public policy director for Planned Parenthood, said his group goes to schools only when invited.
Officials with the Necedah Area School District received the letter, but the district has not taught sex education for years, said Charlie Krupa, the school superintendent.
Officials with the Mauston School District and Royall School District said they hadn’t decided how they would handle sex education in light of the new law. An administrator with the Wonewoc-Center School District did not return a call.