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. Brian

    This DA is an idiot. What planet is he on. What minor is not going to have sex because its against the law? Not sure about you, but when I was a minor whether it was legal or not never once even crossed my mind. Young adults 15-24 now represent the age group with the highest new HIV infection rates. When I was in high school I didn't have sex ed and I new very little about HIV and other STDs. Thanks to foolish decisions I made back them, I am paying for it the rest of my life.

    April 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Christopher

    "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. "

    Uh, hate to inform about this..... but I was having sex with other children from the time I was 3. With adults and teenagers from 7. So it's time to wake up and realize that children ARE engaging in sex very young, and it's better to tell them about sex and how to protect themselves very young, as I did with my children.

    Seriously, I told them at 2 what sex was and what it was for (pleasure and procreation), told them that NO ONE had the right to dictate to them whether they were engaging in it (not even me), and moved on after that.

    It's about time to realize that the BEST thing that we could do is to ENCOURAGE children to engage in sexual activity from very young, so that they can know what the difference is between love and lust. A HELL of a lot of children and adults today are NOT able to distinguish between those two things, not that there is anything wrong with either one.

    April 8, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bradley engeldinger

    This DA is one of the worst excuses of frivolous charges in the whole criminal justice system. How can you threaten to charge teachers for following state laws. This is an example of prosecutors using personal beliefs towards misconduct. If a teacher is following state laws, then they are shouldn't be charged.
    The state elected officials are actually trying to make sure that students aren't getting pregnant or hiv or other std's. If the parents want to instill a moral view on abstinence then its up to the parents not the schools or government.

    April 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rachael G

    As a young adult and a mentor to middle school girls I cannot scream loud enough that sex education is SO important. These teachers are giving students the proper education and should not be arrested for doing their job.
    Sex is everywhere!! All of the older generations need to stop covering their eyes and stop being so narrow minded. I listen to middle school adolescents talk about sex every week! Whether you approve or not it is happening and they need to be educated in ways to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

    April 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. trixie

    I think that it is necessary for sex education to be taught in school. It should be a combination of abstinence and information about the risks of sex at a young age. It should also include information about the emotional aspects of teen sex. Having said that, I think the real responsibility belongs at home, with honest dialouge. For kids that have parents that can't or won't have these conversations, it is better to learn the real facts from qualifed educators and not your 12 year old friend.

    April 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. smarticus89

    This DA should lose his job for threatening to fire teachers for teaching what the state mandates. Who does this guy think he is? A little history lesson about Scott H. Southworth. While attending UW-Madison and paying student fees, Scott found out that some of his fees went to Gay/Lesbian groups. He filed a case against this and it went all the way to the Supreme Court. God forbid $20 goes to a LGBT group. Apparently he loves wasting our tax dollars on frivolous law suits. All in the glory of his name. His name is now mud in Juneau County, Wisconsin. People like this are scary. Resign Scott, you've embarrassed your entire community with your self righteous, ridiculous points of view. You're an elected official, people expect you to prosecute criminals, not teachers who do their job a LOT better than you do.

    April 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bitflogger

    Read between the lines people! Its not about sex-ed! Its a right-winger saying society should follow his morals.

    April 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JEN89

    Sex is a natural part of life. We have "instincts" to have sex. And to eat food. And to breath. We're programmed to do these things. Right-wingers seem to have a hard time not imposing their religious values on the rest of us. Quit hoping that everyone will wait until they're married to have sex. It will never happen.

    In my high school sex ed class, they began by telling us that abstinence is to ONLY guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy and STDs-which is true. -BUT- abstinence is not going to work forever. My teacher followed up with different birth control options, how to use them, and which were most effective. And then the STD slide show. We had to see picture of what different sexually transmitted diseases look like. This was horrifying, and disgusting, and embarrassing. But guess what? It worked. Kids from my school were afraid of STDs, and this leaves them with two options: 1) Abstinence 2) USE protection.

    Since we know that most kids aren't going to use abstinence, at least not forever, we better teach them to use protection...

    "It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks," he wrote.– No. That would be like demonstrating sex positions. Moron.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nick

    This is completely absurd. Teens should learn the value of safe sex in a mature, controlled setting, like a classroom. Teens have sex, that's how it goes. Instead of demonizing it like we do with everything else like drugs, why not treat it for what it is. Every person on the planet has sex and humans want it most during the teenage years. It's irresponsible not to teach them safe sex

    April 9, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. glm

    The Wisconsin Bar should evaluate this persons license to practice law. Perhaps some parents in Wisconsin could file a complaint with the Wisconsin Bar if the Bar has not already initiated an inquiry on their own. If what he is doing isn't illegal it is certainly unethical and disingenuous. g

    April 9, 2010 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. TJS

    Teaching children about sex is a parent role. Abstinence is the BEST teaching for any person. Yes, abstinence till marriage. If you do not engage in sex you will not get hurt. It is that simple. The reason so many are blinded of this is because they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what we need to teach, Biblical Principals!!!

    April 9, 2010 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. Cat Cadle

    I believe sex ed should be taught to 6th to 12th graders EVERY YEAR,,,but teach it responsibly,,,teach abstinence first, then teach protection, how to say no, how to protect your self against force, openness with parents, how to notice changes in your body to early indicate signs of pregnancy or std's,,,,,scare the hell out of these kids! Also make sure to encourage parents at pta meetings to talk to their own kids, give them ideas and handouts to help the parents at home, this is a touchy situation and the more informed these kids are the better! I am 25, we were taught sex ed (mostly abstinence) but guess what,,,kids still have sex in high school, if your a parent of a high schooler and don't believe this,,,steal the cell phone and read the text, break into the facebook acount and the email, get real!

    April 9, 2010 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. Lee

    This zealot is thinking he's above the law that he is sworn to enforce as a public servant, and his religious values dictate how the state should proceed in this matter.

    I see posted by the right how they believe we should have less government. It's a damn lie. They want control of government to do just what this nut case is doing. They want control to force their religious beliefs down our throats.

    April 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LH Partridge

    The vast majority of these comments, pro- and anti-sex education treats the subject as one solely of immediate usefulness in the lives of these children. They completely ignore the fact that most educational topics will not be useful until adulthood. These children will need comprehensive information about their own reproductive health and that of their spouses and children.

    It is senseless to deny the information that adults will need just because they are children now. They need to know anatomy and physiology of the reproductive systems, along with diseases, self-screening techniques, and health practices that include but are not limited to contraception and STD prevention and treatment. Some disorders of the reproductive system are completely unrelated to sexual activity. Should we deny students that knowledge simply because it involves their genitalia?

    It is unrealistic and irresponsible to expect them to learn accurate information once they have left school. Education is supposed to prepare a child for the future as much, if not more than for the present. Most classes are not immediately useful to the students, but no one is arguing that we should wait until the students need them to learn them.

    Why should reproductive health be any different from any other subject?

    April 10, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. d

    I attended high school in Juneau county and graduated in 2006. I find the letter that the DA wrote to be totally without merit and a scare tatic. Several of the schools in the county including mine did not and do not teach sex ed. I think the new law regarding how human growth and development is taught is necessary and is well written. The legal age of consent is 18 in this state but to kids that doesnt really matter. They need to know the facts, and some of them do not get the information at home. As for the DA's statement in Mr. Cooper's "Keeping them honest" segment about prosecuting those who participate in underage sex, I know of several 16 and 17 year olds who were pregnant in my high school and they and/or the fathers were not prosecuted. While I respect Mr. Southworth's position I believe he went outside the scope of his office.

    April 15, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
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