The pregnancy rate among females aged 15 to 17 in Coffee County has dropped significantly since 2010, according to a new report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability.
From 2004 to 2010, the teen pregnancy rate in the county remained consistent at around 33 pregnancies per 1,000 with a jump to 39.6 in 2008. Since 2010, the rate has dropped from 34 pregnancies per 1,000 to 15.5, a decrease of more than 50 percent over four years.
The report is based upon the most current data published by the Tennessee Department of Health.
The statewide teen pregnancy rate for 2013 was higher than Coffee County’s at 18.2 per thousand, according to statistics from the Kids Count Data Center. The highest teen pregnancy rate in 2013 was in Van Buren County, at 54.3 per 1,000, and Giles and Stewart counties tied for the lowest teen pregnancy rate that year at 4.0.
Counties with a rate higher than 19.5 are required by the state to teach family life education classes to public school students.
Although Coffee County is no longer required to teach family life classes, each school system within the county continues to do so.
“Having the pregnancy rate for Coffee County females aged 15 to 17 drop to 15.5 per 1,000 is definitely positive news,” said Gina Bumbalough, Coordinated School Health Coordinator for Tullahoma City Schools. “This data is countywide and system data is not available. When Coffee County’s rate was above the state limit of 19.5, each system was required to cover the family life topics. Tullahoma has done and continues to do this in a variety of ways.”
Tennessee state law requires that family life instruction emphasize abstinence and avoid discussion of “gateway sexual activity.”
“Tullahoma City Schools’ holistic approach in educating their students begins in PreK and continues to graduation,” said Bumbalough. “Through our comprehensive guidance program, the certified guidance counselors at every school address the Tennessee State emotional, social, physical and mental health standards.
“Homeroom teachers also address other topics such as character, respect, social issues, hygiene, peer pressure and making good choices,” she added. “Tullahoma City School nurses and health care professionals annually conduct hygiene and puberty classes. Health fairs give information on a variety of health topics.”
“We as teachers, we have stressed that women have more pride, take more care of their bodies, and don’t be an object to some guy,” said Steve Britton, physical education teacher at Tullahoma High School.
“I’ve talked about having self-respect and do abstinence,” he continued. “If they’re going to get out and do it make sure they use some form of birth control that’s not going to harm them further down the road.”
State law allows schools to provide medically accurate information about contraception and condoms is allowed, providing them or demonstrating how to use them is prohibited.
“I like to think it’s [sex education] helped deter people from going out and just having sex,” said Britton.
Janet Thornton, Coffee County Schools Director of Health Services said, “We haven’t implemented any new programs so I don’t have an answer as to why the rates dropped, but thank goodness they did.”
According to Bumbalough, state curriculum for lifetime wellness requires high school students to be instructed on the reproductive system, sex education, healthy relationships, respecting others, consequences of risky behavior and the benefits of abstinence.
“Other classes cover some of these topics, but not all students take all classes,” said Bumbalough. “In addition to the guidance program, students have the benefit of many community resources too.
“Each student is different and what influences one may not influence another. Tullahoma City Schools strives to teach the whole student in multiple ways. Hopefully this decrease will be seen in the 2014 to 2015 data.”