The Young Democrats of Lane County launched an online petition on March 7 to stop abstinence-focused education in local schools. At the time of publication, over 1,600 people signed the petition and the topic is set to be discussed at the next 4J school district meeting on March 20.
The petition reads: “Between Feb. 23 and March 5, Dove Medical has taught abstinence-only education to students at Roosevelt Middle School, Churchill High-School, North Eugene High School and South Eugene High School. It is unacceptable that students are being taught traumatizing sexual education that shames our students.”
Dove Medical, a faith-based crisis pregnancy center in the Eugene area, conducted its first STOP-AND-THINK sexual education presentation in 1990 at South Eugene High School. In a press release concerning the petition, Dove Medical called the class a “skill-based, sexual risk avoidance program that focuses on teaching practical decision-making skills and is free of religious content,” and emphasized that the program meets Oregon Human Sexuality Education standards.
The 4J school district does provide comprehensive sex education to its students, said Eugene School District spokeswoman Kerry Delf. Dove Medical's STOP-AND-THINK presentations are offered as supplemental to the larger curriculum.
Dove Medical has maintained that the program is not abstinence focused. A recently edited version of their donor website refers to the program as “sexual risk avoidance education program” in bold lettering. As recently as September 2018, however, an earlier version of the same paragraph referred to it as “our abstinence program.”
Dove Medical was invited to participate in an interview about the subject but declined to meet.
Some students who have attended STOP-AND-THINK do not feel that the aims of the presentation are so practical.
“[The presentation] equated waiting to have sex until marriage to being at a theme park and waiting for the best roller coaster ride,” said Ilka Sankari, a senior at South Eugene High School.
According to Jane Brinkley, a student representative of the 4J school board and co-president of South Eugene’s Feminist Union, Sankari isn’t the only student who has voiced discomfort about the program. The 4J school board has fielded numerous complaints about STOP-AND-THINK, and South Eugene’s principal has also been approached by students who wish to voice their complaints about the material.
“They were asked to write down things they want to be remembered for after they die, or remembered for doing in life,” Brinkley said, “and then were asked to consider how that would change should they have sex.”
The presentation covers other options, not just abstinence, although abstinence is stressed, according to students familiar with the material like Brinkley and Sankari. A “Teen Sex Trivia” quiz on the website, for example, emphasizes the fact that teen moms have a lower graduation rate, that 50 percent of STDs/STIs are spread between the ages of 15 to 24 and young women are most susceptible to contracting said diseases.
Another quiz, “Waiting Trivia,” asks students to define abstinence before asking questions about celebrities who have practiced it. Country singer Carrie Underwood and football star Tim Tebow, for example, are mentioned by name. That quiz doesn’t mention contraceptive methods except in one question that asks what sexual practice is 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and disease. Contraceptive methods are listed as incorrect answers.
“They do a lot of developmental training around choice making and informed decision making, but in doing so, there is sort of an underlying pressure to choose abstinence over other methods,” Brinkley said.
Dove Medical’s program is invitational, meaning that teachers invite the presenters to visit their class. Brinkley argued, however, that Dove Medical is deceptive about their affiliation. While Dove Medical’s quarterly newsletter attributes STOP-AND-THINK’s success to “God moving behind the scenes” and looks to the future saying, “We look forward to seeing how God will use this program to reach local students in His wisdom,” the program’s website makes no mention of religion in any way.
“We have heard from some teachers who are pretty unclear on their actual mission,” Brinkley said.
“I don’t think it should be under question that sex education should be treated like health education,” Brinkley added. “Abstinence is so cool. It’s totally awesome if you want to practice it … but attaching values to it, and pushing an agenda with it is what should concern us,” Brinkley said.
The YDLC petition does not call for the banning of faith based organizations making appearances at schools, but specifically for the cancelling of Dove Medical presentations.
“What does that energy mean for someone who was born out of wedlock? For someone who was sexually assaulted in high school?” Brinkley said.
The school board will discuss the issue in a work session directly before its next meeting. It is open to the public and will be held at the district office at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 20. The regular meeting will be held at 7 p.m.
Editor's note: this article has been updated to clarify that the 4J district does provide comprehensive sex education and Dove Medical's presentations are intermittent and supplementary.
A correction has also been made to the time and manner of the discussion at the upcoming school board meeting. There will be a discussion, not a vote, at the March 20 meeting.