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. angry person

    come on what is the world coming to... why don't you teach kids what sex is and let them know about teen pregnancy and how terrible it is for both the girl and the guy and make sure to let them know that having sex before you are 18 is illegal and you can be marked as being a sex offender if you have sex before you are 18 or the person you are having sex with isn't 18. Then bring in some teens that have babys with the baby with them and have them tell their story on how they wish they didn't get pregnant and how they don't have time to have any fun or any of that stuff.

    I didn't have sex in school because I was worried I would get her pregnate and then my parents would kill me and then her parents would kill me to. Fear was the only thing that kept me from having sex.

    April 8, 2010 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. Michael Morris

    The term extortion comes to mind. Let me see if I have this correct. The legislature passed a bill which became law upon the signature of the Governor. The courts assume that the legislature knows the meaning of the laws it passes. This DA does not like the law and has threatened to use violence and imprisonment in an attempt to coerce people subject to that law not to follow it against their will.

    It is surely time for the Attorney General to step in and take action against the extortionist using his office to effect his private purpose of extorting non-compliance with the law.

    There is your criminal.

    April 8, 2010 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. Brandy Miller

    We don't have any problem with expecting teenagers to abstain from using drugs and alcohol. We have "just say no" programs to help them learn strategies to say no. How utterly condescending to assume that just because they are teenagers they are animals and are incapable of controlling themselves when it comes to sex! Nobody would endorse a "safe drugs" program where we teach them how to shoot up in a way that doesn't hurt them as badly, distribute pamphlets telling them where to find the dealers who won't lace their drugs with stuff they shouldn't, and give them each a baggie of clean needles. Why? Because we know drugs can kill when they aren't used correctly – and so can sex! We need to take sex just as seriously as we take illegal drugs. For those who are going to say I don't understand, believe me I do. I have a 14 year old son, but unlike many parents I have been teaching him abstinence since he was in kindergarten along with a healthy respect for women. The result – he's still a virgin. He's faithful to the girl he loves, even though her parents won't let her go out with him. He tells me he's so glad he doesn't have to worry about what some of his friends do – no worries about STD's or babies.

    April 8, 2010 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. Teremist

    Mr. Southworth is way over-stepping his boundries, and defying the law he is sworn to uphold.
    Education is power, ignorance is destruction. Contrary to the sensationalized accusations of some, sex education does not teach the mechanics of sex to 5 year olds. What it does do, is make young children aware that their bodies are theirs, and no one has the right to touch them inappropriately. Age appropriate sex education, gives children the tools and knowledge to make better decisions when the hormones DO KICK IN. It is ludicrous to teach abstinence alone. Our society is inundated with sexual messages in every media, and peer pressure and hormones are equally powerful. New HIV cases are rising fastest among heterosexual teen girls. (In their IGNORANCE) they believe they are either immune to STD's altogether, or they can tell if someone is sick, by the way they look. HIV KILLS BECAUSE OF IGNORANCE.
    THE TRUTH IS, IF YOU WANT YOUR DAUGHTERS TO SURVIVE AND BE HEALTHY, YOU HAVE TO GIVE THEM THE FACTS! THE NUMBERS OF TEEN PREGNANCIES AND ABORTIONS ARE ASTRONOMICAL, the only way to reduce them, is to give our sons and daughters the facts, and the whole truth.

    April 8, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  5. Amiee

    I work with students in high school and let me tell you the majority have had sex already. When I was in middle school (some time ago) classmates of mine were having sex already- you know what happens then- 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 yr old mommies and daddies. Why? Because they had not been taught how to properly use condoms and other forms of birth control. Abstinence education does not work – it should be mentioned how this is the only 100% safe way. However, students still need the facts of how to do it safely as well as all the risks that go along with it. I also think that they should be told of the emotional and social consequences/risk which is something many students don't understand.

    I am not opposed to students in elementary school learning about body image, stranger danger and inappropriate touching. My son is 5 and he has learned about self-esteem, private areas (and what is appropriate and not) as well as parts of the body. I am also very happy that he has a positive body image and knows that it is important to love others and yourself. I feel safer knowing my son will know if a sexual predator tries to do something to him. Many people think that it is always a stranger who molests young children but it usually a close family member or friend of the family. If you child knows that it is wrong and have been taught (should be from both home and school) how to tell what is wrong and what to do when if it should ever happen.

    People getting all up in arms saying that the younger children will learn how to have sex have just bought into all the fear mongering. I'm not really sure what we are supposed to be scared of- less sexual abuse on children?? Fewer unwanted teen pregnancies?? Less STD's??? And this guy seems really out of line if you ask me. I hope someone puts him in his place- though his mixing drinks analogy was pretty hilarious.

    April 8, 2010 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mr. Knowitall

    I know Mr. Southworth personally and he is a media hound! This was likely done to put him in the national spotlight AGAIN! If you recall he was once a finalist for the CNN Hero Award. Knowing him he is lazy when it comes to his work as a DA, but he is very active in his outside intest, including politics.

    April 8, 2010 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. whiteyward

    This threat is exactly why our schools should cover this health subject. The effort to retard health education in any public setting is misdirected.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. Kate

    This is bogus. There are so many contradictions in the first paragraph alone. How can the DA tell these teachers he is going to press charges on them for educating their children the way the state law mandates. Am I crazy? This does not make sense. The DA and the BOE need to get on the same board.

    Plus, teaching children about contraception and how to use it is not encouraging sex, it is not even encouraging safe sex. Simply put, they are educating the children on contraception, what it is, how it is used. I'm sure along with this discussion the teacher is providing students with the information that having sex with a condom does not prevent STDs, which obviously is not encouraging sex.

    For all those out there who believe in teaching children abstinence only in schools, I hope your children don't get pregnant before they want to or get an STD because more than likely they are having sex. Wouldn't you like for them to be safe about it?

    April 8, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. Oy

    Things like this make me so angry! I love the overly righteous people that keep proclaiming that society has gone to the dogs in the last twenty years and that everyone should have more "old fashioned" morals. No one in their generation did stuff like that...GET A CLUE! Teenagers have been having sex since the beginning of humanity. They even had sex in your generation. (Oh the shock and horror!) I don't condone sex between/with minors but by sticking your fingers in your ears and wishing things were the same as it never was won't do anyone any good.

    I was taught "sex ed" starting in 4th grade not kindergarten. At that level we were taught about puberty and development. That's right folks, that's part of "sex ed". Do we stop teaching girls about menstruation too? I didn't learn about birth control and STDs until junior high and I still waited until I was with the man I was going to marry. I got married right out of college and we're still together and happily so.

    People act like teenagers are walking genitals waiting to collide. They're not. The argument against "sex ed" is less about the actual information and more about not trusting them to do the right thing. Arming them with this information is just part of preparing them for life. We're not just trying to prevent births anymore. We're also trying to prevent deaths.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jolene

    Alright. As I read through the posts I see comments asking if sex is not sacred anymore. I see posts about teaching sex-ed in late middle school-highschool. The fact is, children are having sex whether we like it or not. They are doing it for a myriad of reasons. I am 28 years old and when I was twelve years old many of my friends were sexually active already.

    There are more variables at play besides the mechanics of sex. Kids have sex because of the surging hormones coupled with peer pressure and whatever is going on at home, etc.

    All things aside, why not teach children the responsibilities of sex? Perhaps a side effect will be that the children will realize that they are indeed not ready for these responsibilities. If they aren't educated about sex, all they will know is the exciting feelings they experience and what they see on tv UNTIL the consequences catch up with them.

    Having an indepth conversation with children can only help.

    Thank you.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Cory D

    This is hilarious...and not at the same time. A Teacher could get 12 years just because he/she is teaching school kids (of which a large number is probably already sexually active) about sex and safe sex? You've GOT to be kidding me....

    Time to join the rest of the world WI because it is certainly not waiting for you.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Tracey

    Teaching teenagers about safe sex does not necessarily "encourage" them to run out to do it. Teenagers will have sex. They need to be educated to keep themselves and others safe. I love seeing so many people making comments diasagreeing with that moron DA. As for his mixed drink analogy, drinking is not a vital part of life, therefore he is ignorant.

    April 8, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  13. Nobody

    you can teach about it and not teach to use it!!!

    April 8, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Angela

    Interesting how one mention of sexuality and education can get turned into a liberal vs conservative debate about morals and consequences. The simple fact of the matter is that we in humanity no longer live in biblical times when societal norm was directed by the religious communities, our priests very often our medicine men as well. The truth is, we live in modern society, technology has advanced in such a way that information is now readily available on such a plethora of subjects that children have access to information that the previous generations were more effectively sheltered from by conservative parents in a time when there was not an ever constant wave of external stimuli. For our freedoms and for the technology that provides us ease we are grateful, yet we seem to forget the changes this has wrought on childrearing. We can no longer expect our children to "look away" we can't hide them in our skirts, or send them off to the cousin in the country, because even in the country there is TV and internet. So... We have to arm them with the knowledge to protect them. In olden days we taught them how to avoid wild creatures near homesteads and to avoid the wagon wheels; now we have to protect them against STD’s and pregnancy. These are the dangers of THIS time and we cannot protect them if we aren't honest with them. However squeamish that makes us, they will get the information from other avenues, such as the internet where there are many variables to information (like fetishes), or their friends, who got it from what they saw on the internet, or from the pedophiles who will readily educate them in the absence of parental advice. Parents who cannot seem to put the words "child" and "sexuality" in the same sentence because it makes them blush are the same parents to whom children won't come to with questions of a sexual nature. In lieu of parental advice, we end up with experimentation. Morals and social comfort aside, if we don't protect our children, humanity has no chance. This is reproductive health class, not sexuality or bible school. Stop confusing morals with health issues.

    April 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Maurice

    I thought I was out of the woods when I left TX, But the Red People are everywhere! I know that abstinance is not fully affective,but I feel that it should be stressed in grade schools and unfortunatley we must teach some things parents are not teaching at home so that our children are not being sexually molested and know what is and is not acceptable behavior concerning their bodies. Lack of information is at the root of many children becoming victums and It is our desire to empower them.

    April 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
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