comScore

Despite STD crisis, sex ed is a low priority for Minneapolis charter schools

If kids aren't being taught the awkward stuff of bodily fluids and genital chancres, the latest STD stats shouldn't shock.

If kids aren't being taught the awkward stuff of bodily fluids and genital chancres, the latest STD stats shouldn't shock.

Sexually transmitted diseases had a career year in Minnesota. An all-time high of nearly 26,000 cases was reported in 2015.   

And schools may be abetting the problem, says Minneapolis Health Department staffer Oliviah Walker.

"As of now, there are no Minnesota state standards for sexual health [education]," said Walker.

She's specifically calling out charter schools. A past assessment exposed "only 9 of the 22 charter middle schools [in Minneapolis] were implementing any sort of health education." 

Minnesota law tasks public schools — charters included — with with establishing programs addressing STD risks and prevention. Yet there's no hard mandate in about who's being taught what, when, and how much. The details are left to schools.

"I think what you see too often in classrooms is health and sexual education isn't a top priority," says Matt Toburen of the Minnesota AIDS Project. "Sometimes it's because there's only so much time in the school day. Sometimes it can be funding. Sometimes it's by decision. 

"You have to remember, Minnesota public school districts are largely autonomous in decision-making, especially when it comes to health and sexual education. The law says they must have a program and schools check a box with the state saying they do. That's all that's required." 

Sex ed takes up one academic week annually at Minneapolis Academy, a highly decorated charter middle school. An outside instructor does the teaching, which includes talking about STDs.

Augsburg Fairview Academy started providing condoms to students, who just have to ask without parental consent. Fairview also requires each pupil to take two years' worth of health classes. 

"It can be mental health or spiritual health or anatomy. It's really up to the student," says the Academy's Heidi Andersen, adding that sex ed curriculum like STDs "probably… makes up only 15 percent of the course load."  

Therein lies the issue, according to Toburen of the AIDS Project: "Teaching health and sexual education can be an hour. It can be three weeks. The schools decide. What we're being told, anecdotally by students at least, is they're not impressed."