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New Policy Increases Barriers and Decreases Access to Sex Education in Memphis Schools

By Emily Ike

In Memphis, Tennessee, students must now have signed permission forms from parents in order to participate in sex education classes. New policy changes within Memphis City Schools (MCS) overturns previous consent policies on sex education, which allowed parents to opt their children out of sex education.

Memphis is currently in the top five cities in the U.S. with the highest number of new HIV/AIDs cases,[1] while the state of Tennessee is ninth in the nation for teen pregnancy rates.[2] With the added concern of teenagers, particularly in the South, having some of the most rapidly growing rates of sexually transmitted infections, this new policy creates added hurdles and barriers for teens to gain access to information about sexual health.

Monica Rodriguez, President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, (SIECUS) notes that though most parents will typically sign permission forms for sex education classes, this policy assumes that parents are informed of the policy update, and that the permission form makes it to the parents hands. Rodriguez also points out that; “unfortunately, many parents are absent or not involved in their child's schooling and not available to sign a permission slip. Yet many of those students are the ones most at risk and most likely to need sexuality education from the schools.”[3]

Across the country, the opt out policy is widely accepted by school districts and parents alike as allowing sufficient freedom for parents to make their own decisions in regards to their child’s level of participation in sex education in schools.

“Almost every school district in the country has an opt-out policy,” explains Rodriguez. Though there is no statistical data comparing student enrollment in sex education programs with an opt-in versus an opt-out policy, creating an exclusionary approach to sex education in Memphis schools results in more obstacles for at-risk youth to access accurate information about sexual health.[4]


[1] Jane Roberts, “MCS changes policy, requires parent OK for sex education,” The Commercial Appeal, 2 October 2012, accessed 10 October 2012. <http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/oct/02/mcs-changes-policy-requires-parent-ok-for-sex/>.

[2] Tom Wilemon, “Teen birth rates drop, but Tennessee is still in top 19,” The Tennessean, 3 February 2011, accessed 10 October 2012. <http://www.wbir.com/rss/article/155442/2/Teen-birth-rates-drop-but-Tennessee-is-still-in-top-10>.

[3] Jane Roberts, “MCS changes policy, requires parent OK for sex education,” The Commercial Appeal, 2 October 2012, accessed 10 October 2012. <http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/oct/02/mcs-changes-policy-requires-parent-ok-for-sex/>.

[4] Ibid.

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