Planned Parenthood has been Wisconsin’s largest reproductive health care provider since 1935, with 28 centers throughout the state.
In 1990 the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) published a guide for comprehensive sex ed for kindergarten through 12th graders. It is wishful thinking however, that such a guide would be used collectively around the state. In fact, Wisconsin’s sex education varies widely because its implementation is up to individual schools. This means that while one school may have an abstinence-only education plan, another may have a comprehensive sex and reproductive justice-based education. The laws regarding sex education have been flip-flopping ever since the implementation of the Healthy Youth Act in 2010, after the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reported the STIs among WI teens had increased by 53% between 1997 and 2007. (1) This act, which replaced abstinence-only sex ed and aimed to better educate students about safe sex, was repealed by Gov. Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin from 2011 until 2018. Confused? Don’t worry. We walk ya through it below.
Timeline + Notable Legislation
1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down. (10)
1914– The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919– A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school.
1920s– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (10)
1930s– The U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964– The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968– A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (10)
1980s– The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981– President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
And in the state of Wisconsin…
Let’s break em down.
The Healthy Youth Act (2009) (1)
– Required ‘human growth and development’ instruction in Wisconsin’s public schools.
– While sex education was not mandatory in Wisconsin public schools, school districts that did choose to provide sex education were now required to include subjects such as contraceptive use and could no longer offer abstinence-only curriculums.
– Repealed in 2012 by Gov. Scott Walker.
Abstinence-only classes banned (2010) (2)
– Required abstinence-only sex education bill passed (2012)
– No contraception education required
– Opposed by the state’s education department (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction) and the Wisconsin Medical Society. (2)
Health Problems Education Program implemented (2017)
– Includes instruction in STDs and human growth and development. While STD instruction is a required component, schools are not obligated to teach the program. (3)
Gov. Tony Evers (D) elected (2018)
– Since elected, Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor vetoed four anti-choice bills passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
So is Sex Ed in Wisconsin actually required? Well, according to the NCSL, a school MAY provide programs in “human growth and development” as long as they are “medically accurate and age-appropriate” (4) -although what is actually deemed “age-appropriate” and “medically accurate” is up for debate.
The big takeaways:
- The most recent (2019) state superintendent manual for Wisconsin still lists programs in sex education as “human growth and development” not “sex education.”
- These are all entirely voluntary and up to the discretion of each school. In other words, sex ed is still not required in any school (!!) and implemented curriculums are decided upon within those schools.
- There is a heavy emphasis on abstinence (thanks Scott Walker!) with a recommended instructional program that informs students of the “benefits of a reasons for abstaining from sexual activity…and stress the value of abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”
- Parents do not have to consent to the programs, however they are given the option to opt their child/children out of the program if they so choose.
- The vagueness of the curriculum and requisites allow for the following laundry list of topics that do not need to be addressed: contraception, sexual orientation, condoms, outcomes of teen sex, healthy relationships, sexual decision-making skills, refusal skills and boundaries, consent, dating/sexual violence prevention, LGBTQ+ perspecitves. Ya know, nothing too important 😉
What the kids are actually learning...
It turns out that, because of the lack of consistency among schools, it’s pretty difficult to determine what kids are actually being taught.
Luckily, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) have a comprehensive health education program accessible online. MPS lumps their “Human Growth and Development” program into a “Communicable Disease Prevention Program” (geez louise!). According to the Health and Wellness Education site, MPS developed their own curriculum with the help of the Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction (DPI). It is now one of three recommended by the DPI and used by other districts in the state.
The curriculum highlights “that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing sexually transmitted infections” and encourages parents to discuss reproductive health issues and help further educate their children in both discussed and non-discussed issues.
Some Curriculum Highlights:
- 1st grade: Communications/emotions, body image anatomy and body privacy
- 4th grade: -Decision Making, Human reproduction and development, Human Development, Communicable Diseases, HIV/AIDS
- 7th and 8th grade: STI prevention, abstinence and a pretty comprehensive list of other contraception. Below is an example from the 8th grade worksheet on decisions/contraception/pregnancy.
Here are the curriculums for grades K-8. But without speaking to any teachers it’s hard to gauge if they are actually being used, and if they are, how comprehensively they are being followed. (Are you a teacher in Wisconsin? Email us!)
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has implemented new education and training programs, called Embody. These provide comprehensive sex education, training and resources for communities, parents, teachers/professionals, and students! This includes information that is “age appropriate, medically accurate and culturally competent” for all ages. The student section on the website includes information and resources on topics that range from pregnancy, birth control, contraception and STIs.
More resources for ya...
Written by: Maya Stoller
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) General School Operations. Chapter 118.019. 1-5. Wisconsin State Legislature. Updated 2019.
(2) Banchero, Stephanie. “Abstinence Push Wins in Wisconsin.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, March 14, 2012.
(3) “State Policy Updates-Wisconsin.” Guttmacher Institute, November 1, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy.
(4) State Superintendent; Education Programs. Chapter 115: STATE SUPERINTENDENT; GENERAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND DEFINITIONS; CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES. 115.35-115.355. Updated November 11, 2019
(5) “Human Growth & Development A Resource Guide to Assist School Districts in Policy and Program Development and Implementation.” Human Growth & Development A Resource Guide to Assist School Districts in Policy and Program Development and Implementation, 2013. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sspw/pdf/hgdedition5.pdf.
(6) “Health Education.” Milwaukee Public Schools. Accessed November 20, 2019. https://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/en/Programs/Health-Wellness/Health-Education.htm
(7) “Human Growth Development Curriculum.” Milwaukee Public Schools Health Education. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/en/Programs/Health-Wellness/Health-Education/Human-Growth-Development-Curriculum.htm.
(8) “Human Growth Development Curriculum.” Milwaukee Public Schools Human Growth and Development: Eighth Grade, June 19, 2015. https://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/en/Programs/Health-Wellness/Health-Education/Human-Growth-Development-Curriculum.htm.
(9) Planned Parenthood. “Education.” Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc. Accessed November 12, 2019 https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-wisconsin/education.
(10) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.