Oregon Reaches for the STARS


In her reader diary, Leah627 writes about the Oregon program STARS, a peer-led abstinence curriculum which teaches middle school students that "Students Today Aren’t Ready for Sex."

 Crossposted at Amplify

Oregon usually does well when it comes to sex ed: Advocates for Youth gives us a B+, which is pretty good considering our weird political makeup. Oregon boasts a few hubs filled with liberal hippies and Obama-lovers,surrounded by small towns, some of which stay in line politically with the big cities, and others in which confederate flags, run down RVs, and ammo-filled gas stations are par for the course. 

So, when I arrived at the Adolescent Sexuality Conference this week in Seaside, OR, I didn’t know what to expect.  The last time I visited the Oregon coast, a billboard next to a porn store greeted passersby with a message equivocating porn and sin and a few proverbs about turning your back on God,etc, etc.  Then again, my county hosts the annual Oregon Country Fair, a veritable extravaganza of drugs, hemp,and bare, painted chests (of men and women alike).  Like I said, you never know what’s coming your way.

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After checking in, gathering somefreebies (I got a Frisbee that reads: STIs!  Anyone can catch one), and digesting the standard continental breakfast, I attended some great sessions which will, I’m sure, provide fodder for future blogs.  When the last session of the day arrived, I chose the one about youth leadership.  Seems fitting, right? Wrong.  This particular workshop centered on the youth leadership in the STARS Foundation.  STARS, a peer-led abstinence curriculum, serves 65% of middle school students statewide, teaching them that Students Today Aren’t Ready for Sex.  Though I would agree that sixth graders aren’t ready for sex, I am skeptical about the scope of the program.  First of all, I don’t think most sixth graders need to be told not to have sex: they already know it.  But wouldn’t it be prudent, even wise, to teach them about birth control, STIs, and condom use just in case they decide that they are,in fact, ready for sex?  In the event that they do decide to have sex, they shouldn’t be punished by pregnancy or infections. 

Second, a hefty chunk of federal funding is always bound for abstinence education programs, whether they’re abstinence clowns or fear-mongering middle school sessions.  That’s why I was so surprised by the STARS workshop’s posturing when it came to their “funding struggles.”  As soon as they started empathizing with innocent attendees’ funding plights, my supervisor immediately rolled her eyes.  “That’s a lie!” she whispered fiercely.  Sure enough,the STARS adult leader then outlined what the curriculum could and could not address according to its parameters. Hmmm, parameters?  “Who dictates these parameters?” I asked. “A board of directors? Grants? Could it be…(insert threatening music here)…ABSTINENCE ONLY FEDERAL FUNDING??” Plot foiled!  The leader admitted to the federal grants they receive, and alluded to the subtle religious influence of the STARS program, as not-so-subtly evidenced by the biblical quote on the back of a STARS-commissioned comic book.  Dishonesty is never the way to go, and in this case, it just made me want to scream.

Interestingly, I actually liked the youth leaders who presented the material. Although I disagree with what they attested to be their “strong beliefs”(one wore a silver abstinence ring), they seemed like nice, fun, and pretty smart kids.  I had a hard time deciphering whether or not they actually, passionately, believe in unequivocal abstinence.  Was it a way to engage in whatever conversations about sex and sexuality they could for lack of a better alternative, or did it stem from true conviction?  I’ll probably never know.

Last but not least, a teenage leader spoke about her project as a member of the STARS Teen Advisory Board.  As a required component of Board membership, youth do anything from making abstinence-encouraging movies (the one we watched bordered on propaganda), create comic books (amazingly designed but a little too God-infused for school, in my opinion), and, in the case of the leader at the conference, implement new policies through the School Board.  The leader spoke of the School Board negotiating process as if were easy as pie—no big deal.  I could barely contain myself: after weeks of emails back and forth with a supposedly supportive School Board member and seemingly endless contemplation and discussion, my quest to achieve condom access in schools in my district has essentially remained stagnant.  And this girl can just strut right in and secure abstinence only STARS education in two more middle schools?

In a mire of contradictions,dishonesties, and propaganda, at least one thing is clear.  For now, in Oregon (at the least where funding is concerned), this is as simple as it gets.



Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 


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