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Ohio schools now require sex abuse education. One of Ohio’s biggest sex ed providers can’t teach it.

Students sit at a desk facing a powerpoint screen in a high school classroom.
Andy Chow
The Statehouse News Bureau
Students take tests in a classroom in Licking Heights in 2019. Ohio schools will now have to add sex abuse education for grades K-6 and sexual violence education for grades 6-12.

One of Ohio’s largest providers of sex education is now limited in what it can teach in the classroom.

On Tuesday, Ohio becomes the 38th state in the nation to enact Erin’s Law– legislation that requires schools to teach sexual abuse and violence prevention to all K-12 schools. But, Ohio’s law also includes an amendment that prohibits organizations that provide abortions from teaching them.

That means Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of sex education in the nation, can no longer address these topics in their school programming like they have in the past, said Diego Espino, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of community engagement and the director of the Ohio Center for Sex Education.

Espino said he believes the law will weaken the sex education courses that it provides across the state.

“Most of our sex ed sessions have some aspect or another that is related to sexual abuse prevention and sexual violence prevention,” he said.

A spokesperson for Sen. Sandra O’Brien, who sponsored the bill’s amendment, declined a request for comment.

Limits on instruction

Planned Parenthood provided comprehensive sex education course materials to around 7,000 students in Ohio in the last fiscal year, according to Espino.

He said conversations around safe sex practices naturally build into discussion around sexual violence prevention.

“When we're talking about sexually transmitted infections, we always ensure that we cover topics like condom negotiation skills,” he said. “And that leads us into how to recognize healthy relationships, that then leads us to a possible conversation about sexual abuse and prevention,” he said.

Now, Espino said Planned Parenthood can’t have those conversations. And, those schools will have to look to other providers to get that information.

“Even if there are some of them that do that, are they going to have the bandwidth to go to all of the schools that currently will need that?” he said. “That’s very problematic.”

Schools have the option to use their own teachers, but the amendment requires that those instructors receive training from law enforcement or prosecutors on how to teach the topics.

The Ohio Department of Education is also required to provide online educational resources for schools to adopt into their curriculum. Those resources likewise can’t come from organizations that provide abortions or make referrals for abortion-related services.

Schools will have to integrate curriculum requirements in the upcoming school year.

The state of sex education

Ohio is the only state in the nation without health education standards. With more than 600 school districts in the state, there's a lot of room for variance, Espino said.

“There’s not much guidance,” he said.

Sex education is mandated, but it’s not required to be comprehensive or medically accurate. Ohio code calls for “venereal disease education” with an emphasis on abstinence.

Espino said that puts Ohio at a disadvantage when it comes to reducing unplanned pregnancies and preventing sexually transmitted infections.

“That's truly where we don't measure up to the other states that do have a comprehensive approach,” he said.

Ohio parents also have the choice to opt their children out of sex education instruction. This opt-out policy will also carry into Erin’s Law, allowing students to be excused with written consent from their guardians.

Ohio is one of five states that have included the amendment that bars organizations that provide abortion from teaching students about sexual abuse, alongside Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas and Alaska.

Espino said it will affect Ohio youth.

“[They] will not have the information necessary to make informed decisions about their sexual health and reproductive health,” he said. “Because someone decided that they didn't like one of the providers of that information.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.