LUMBERTON — Robeson County has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina, but a state initiative aims to help reduce that figure.
The Public Schools of Robeson County will receive a portion of an $800,000 federal grant from the state Board of Education to teach students in grades 4 through 6 in 19 rural school districts to abstain from sex.
The board approved the grant last week.
It will focus on students who are at an increased risk for bearing children out of wedlock and academic failure. The actual funding amount has not been announced and local school administrators and board of education members had few specifics about the project.
Robeson County’s teen pregnancy average from 2007 to 2011 was 89.5 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, which ranks behind Vance, Richmond and Onslow counties as the highest average in the state, according to the North Carolina Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiatives.
Robeson rate just for 2011 was 69.1 pregnancies per 1,000. The state rate for teen pregnancies for 2011 is 43.8 pregnancies per 1,000 girls.
Bill Smith, Robeson County’s Health Director, said he wanted more information on the initiative, but expressed concern it would do little help if it is similar to the abstinence-based sex education already in place in county schools.
“That’s what we mostly do now,” he said.
Smith said abstinence-based sexual education does not reflect reality.
“The problem is [abstinence lessons] don’t deal with consequences,” he said. “It’s fine to teach no sex until marriage, but when half the people aren’t doing that, they’re not getting any message.”
Smith said how abstinence is taught also renders the message inadequate.
“Teachers only teach what they’re comfortable with, so they’re not getting into the nuances” of sexual education, Smith said.
A little-known feature of the Affordable Care Act extends through next year the program that distributes money to states to teach abstinence education. In addition to Robeson, the school systems are in Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Bertie, Bladen, Caldwell, Duplin, Edenton/Chowan, Edgecombe, Greene, Halifax, Lee, Lenoir, Richmond, Scotland, and Swain counties.