Updated with clarification.

Crane High School in Crane, Tex., is experiencing an outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. The number of cases reported appears to be in dispute.

While numerous stories in the Texas media say there have been 20 cases, with the MySanAntonio reporting “nearly two dozen,” the state health department told CBS7 in Texas that there have been a total of eight cases during the year in the county as a whole, but that more people are being tested. Crane Independent School District Superintendent Jim Rumage had sent a letter home to parents, saying the number of cases reported has been “significant.”

But because the school has an abstinence-only program, the problem has attracted attention to questions about the viability of abstinence education.

“We do have an abstinence curriculum, and that’s evidently ain’t working,” Rumage told KFOR. “We need to do all we can, although it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate their kids on sexual education.”

ABC reported the letter home written by school officials included a chlamydia primer that pointed out that the disease is the “most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States.” The curable condition affects men and women, and can damage women’s reproductive systems, complicating future pregnancies.

“Crane Independent School District would like to make our parents aware or more aware of a problem that has been identified in our teenagers and young adults of our community,” the letter began. “The number of cases reported from Crane and Upton County have been significant. … With this being said, we feel we need the parents to be aware of this growing problem and pass along some information regarding the sexually transmitted disease.”


Photomicrograph of Chlamydia trachomatis taken from a urethral scrape. (Dr. Wiesner, Dr. Kaufman/CDC)

Funding for abstinence-only sex education — which Crane provides for three days per year, as People reported — was greatly expanded by the federal government under President Reagan. Abstinence-only is based on the idea that the only way to avoid possible consequences of sex such as pregnancy and disease is to avoid having it.

It’s long been a target of scientists, researchers and liberals who say young people need more information about safe sex, such as the use of condoms to avoid sexually transmitted disease.

“Government funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is not new,” according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a nonprofit that advocates “for the right of all people to accurate information, comprehensive education about sexuality, and sexual health services.” “In fact, the federal government has poured tax-payer money into such programs for over a quarter century.”

“We don’t need a study, if I remember my biology correctly, to show us that those people who are sexually abstinent have a zero chance of becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease,” said Wade Horn, President George W. Bush’s assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in charge of federal abstinence funding, said in 2004.

Critics say that the method isn’t just unsound, but unethical.

“Abstinence-only programs have been sharply criticized by leading medical professional organizations for being, by their very nature, antithetical to the principles of science and medical ethics,” the pro-choice organization Guttmacher Institute wrote in 2009. “As a matter of law, abstinence-only programs are required to promote ideas that are at best scientifically questionable, and to withhold health- and life-saving information.”

Indeed, this is not the first time a jurisdiction with abstinence-only curriculum has come under fire for the results of its program. In 2012, the left-leaning publication Think Progress pointed out that teen pregnancy rates are highest in states with abstinence only programs.

Though the Crane school board will vote on changes to the curriculum on May 19, the school district’s superintendent defended the logic of abstinence-only: no sex, no problem.

“If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease,” Rumage told MySanAntonio. “… That’s not a bad program.”

Clarification: The original version of this story quoting Texas media said 20 cases had been reported in the school, and did not reflect the superintendent’s latest comments saying there were eight this year in the county as a whole, not necessarily all in the school.

 

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