April 7th, 2010
11:21 AM ET

DA to teachers: New sex ed course could get you arrested

A district attorney in Juneau County, Wisconsin, warned teachers in a memo sent to schools that if they teach the new sexual education curriculum mandated under state law, they could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a child.

Because the law requires teachers to instruct children not only about contraceptives but about how to use them, Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said, schools are forced to encourage students to "engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender."

And since minors can't legally have sex in Wisconsin, teachers would essentially be endorsing the behavior and could be held liable, Southworth said in the letter.

"It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks," he wrote.

In his letter, Southworth said the law would convert sex education classes "into a radical program that sexualizes our children as early as kindergarten. This, in turn, will lead to more child sexual assaults."

Southworth sent the letter to five school districts and said they should drop all sex education curriculum until the law could be changed.

The law doesn't force any schools to teach the sex education classes, but it sets out strict guidelines on what should be taught in the schools that choose to do so. The law passed narrowly in the legislature and was the topic of a fierce battle between Republicans and Democrats: No Republicans voted for it, and it was signed by a Democratic governor.

Those who support the law hail it as a chance to keep down the rate of STDs and teen pregnancies and to properly educate students, but opponents say that rather than giving children all the information necessary to have sex, they should focus on a curriculum of abstinence.

Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, a Democrat, told the Wisconsin State Journal that she believes there's no problem with the law.

She said Southworth, a Republican, is a "zealot" who wrote the letter to try to scare people out of teaching the sexual education classes.

"Using condoms isn't a crime for anyone," Roys told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "This guy is not a credible legal source on this matter, I'm sorry to say. His purpose is to intimidate and create enough panic in the minds of school administrators that they'll turn their backs on young people and their families."

In his letter, Southworth argued that it is a crime and that he's just trying to help schools be aware of the legal danger they could be putting themselves in.

"The teacher could be charged with the crime even if the child does not actually engage in the criminal behavior [of having sex as a minor]," Southworth wrote.

Both the State Journal and the Journal-Sentinel spoke with school administrators who said they were seeking legal advice on the matter.

soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. william

    What a complete waste of govt time and money. Common sense has gone out the window. Lets not teach our kids about sex, lets not teach our kids how to protect themselve, lets not deal with teenage mothers and fatherless babies, No, lets us leave that up to the parents, and we know how well that has worked out in the past. Lets all get back to sticking our heads in the sand and the problem will go away i am sure.

    April 7, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Lyndon Messer

    When will the law start prosecuting parents who let teenagers "sleepover" with boyfriends and girlfriends?

    April 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TBoulan

    We had "Legislating from the Bench"; but this looks like legislating from the desk – the district attorneys’ desk.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. nate

    I was first taught sexual education in 5th grade, and honestly, i had no intention or desire at that age to engage in sexual activity, but naturally the class made me curious. I believe in proper education about the dangers of sex, but it should wait until late-middle school or junior high when people start engaging in that activity.

    Abstinence isn't an effective tool, because simply saying "don't do it" won't stop anyone from doing it. The biggest deterrent for me was pregnancy. If you teach about how your life will essentially be ruined at that age, and have teen mothers come in and talk... it will put a real-life face on what will happen. Sure, STD's are scary, but in a teenagers mind... it's the least of their worries.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. What a Crock

    This DA is way overstepping. Showing a teenager how a contraceptive product works is not the same as encouraging him/her to use it. Better they know what is out there and how to use it than not. One can ALWAYS point out that abstinence it the BEST way to avoid pregnancy and STD's but to actuall expect teenagers to avoid sex is like expecting birds not to build nests and bees not to collect honey.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. KJG

    As someone who grew up in Wisconsin, I am completely outraged at this D.A.'s behavior. I hope the parents of children at these 5 schools speak up to demand an accurate sexual health education for their children.

    Sexual health is a vital part of one's health, and everyone needs to learn to care for themselves. We wouldn't just hand someone a toothbrush and toothpaste and say "here,..You'll need these when you're ready to take care of your teeth." Children and young adults need more information so they can take of their *entire* body!

    April 7, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Manny HM

    These children should be taught at a young enough age before pedophiles and sex offenders become the first tutors. Some parents should be invited to these sex ed classes as control observers. Their input as parents should also be requested and welcomed. I would even go as far as getting a convicted pedophile or two to warn children on how to avoid people like him. I don't thiink it's sufficient to tell children to avoid talking to strangers.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joshua Brooks

    I agree...teaching minors basically "how to have sex" is not a very good idea.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. S

    So here's a question to the people who think only abstinence should be taught. So when all these kids who know nothing about preventing pregnancy get married, then what? Even if they do wait until marriage, which is very unlikely, is abstinence supposed to prevent pregnancy after marriage or are these people supposed to just have children pretending not to know where they come from? What exactly is the end game here?

    April 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Healthteach

    I think this law is ridiculous. As a Health teacher in Minnesota I teach sex ed classes to 9-12 graders and I truly believe they need this information. We talk about abstinence and how it's important to wait until your sure that you're ready for sex, but the students find the portion about being prepared and having the facts about sex. more interesting. It's around 65% of graduating seniors are sexually active, they need to know how to protect themselves from pregnancies and STI's. Taking this class out of the schools is irresponsible.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Danny

    Why teach kids so young about sex? Does no one believe sex is a sacred act anymore? Not something you do when you feel like it whenever you want with anybody? I don't understand what happened to our society. Call me old-fashioned but I think sex before marriage is not a good idea. It's hard to hold to that idea I realize this, but we should have more self-control. This is ridiculous. We live in such a depraved society...

    April 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Darrin

    So people who teach gun safety to youth can be charged if that kid goes and commits a crime with a gun???

    April 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bob

    Where would you rather kids learn about sex, from their same-age friends or in a controlled, classroom environment?

    April 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Randy

    Educating young Americans about contraception and making responsible choices is best addressed in the public school system. We as adult educators cannot assume that the parents of our students are informing their sons or daughters about contraception. Our children are being raised in a country and government system that is enabling a sense of dependency. If we do not educate people about their own reproductive health and responsibilities, we are shooting ourselves in the foot by assuring two things: A higher population growth rate, and perpetuating the ideal of dependency upon governement funded social assistance.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DriveByPoster

    I never understood the pro sex-ed argument. We tell kids that guns can kill people, yet we don't bring guns and ammo to school, show them how to load it, and have them fire it into something.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
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