New Mexico State Profile
Community-based organizations in New Mexico received approximately $1,336,466 in federal funds forabstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
New Mexico Sexuality Education Law and Policy
New Mexico does not mandate that schools teach sexuality education; however, it does mandate that “each school district shall provide instruction about HIV and related issues in the curriculum of the required health education content area to all students in the elementary grades, in the middle/junior high school grades, and in the senior high school grades.” This instruction must include “ways to reduce the risk of getting AIDS, stressing abstinence.” Outcomes of such instruction should include the “ability to demonstrate refusal skills, overcome peer pressure, and use decision-making skills.”
Educational materials and the grade levels at which they will be introduced are determined by local school districts. All instruction must be age-appropriate. Local school boards must “insure the involvement of parents, staff, and students in the development of polices and the review of instructional materials.” The state neither suggests curriculum nor limits what may or may not be included in sexuality education instruction.
New Mexico offers Content Standards for Health Education that includes abstinence and reproductive health beginning in grades three and four. Beginning in seventh and eighth grade, performance standards in health education include understanding “how healthy alternatives can replace unhealthy behaviors (i.e. abstinence, condom use, other pregnancy prevention methods).”
New Mexico’s Health Education Standards with Benchmarks and Performance Standards states that each school district must have a policy allowing parents to “request that their child be exempted from the parts of the health education curriculum that addresses the sexuality performance standards.” In addition, Alternative lessons must be created for exempted students This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.. Local school boards must include parents, staff, and students in developing their own opt-out policy.
See New Mexico Administrative Code 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124, and Health Education Standards with Benchmarks and Performance Standard.
SIECUS is not aware of any proposed legislation regarding sexuality education in New Mexico.
Gay-Straight Alliance Permitted in Effort to Preserve Other Extracurricular Activities
The Municipal School Board of Education in Farmington, New Mexico, has decided to permit a high school Gay-Straight Alliance to form. Although some members had reservations about the club’s alleged sexual nature, the school board was motivated by the threat of losing all extracurricular clubs and activities if the Gay-Straight Alliance was banned.2
The federal Equal Access Act prohibits schools from allowing some extracurricular clubs and activities and not others. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action on these grounds if the Gay-Straight Alliance was not allowed to form.3
Taking those warnings to heart, the school board weighed the value of other activities against its disapproval of the Gay-Straight Alliance club itself. The board’s deputy secretary said, “The choice to ban all clubs would eliminate any benefit we as a school board are currently contributing back to the community.”4 He cited Boy Scouts meetings, Little League baseball, and Special Olympics practices as some important uses of school facilities. The board felt those services were too valuable to lose, and decided to continue to permit any club, including the Gay-Straight Alliance, to form. Some school board members remained upset with this decision and have lobbied the state legislature in the hopes of a law that will allow them to ban the Gay-Straight Alliance while keeping other activities.5
In the meantime, the board is moving forward a new policy that places additional restrictions on club formation and participation. Under the new policy, students will now be required to obtain parental permission for participation in activities. In addition, the board is setting up a committee to review content regulation procedures. Clubs may also have to reapply for formation on a yearly basis.6
School Board Questioned on Violation of State Requirements, Conflicts of Interest
In January 2007, the Rio Rancho school board voted to continue an abstinence-only-until-marriage program despite the fact that it violated state requirements for comprehensive sexuality education. At the time, the mayor and one of the school board members (who are married to each other) worked for Best Choices Educational Service, the group that provides Rio Rancho’s abstinence-only-until-marriage programming.
Best Choices Education Service receives federal grant money for its programs, but according to New Mexico educational regulations which require that schools include information on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases for 7th through 12th graders, its programs should not be allowed in schools.
Though several members voiced apprehension about voting for an educational program that defied state requirements, the board approved the program 4–1. The ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) criticized the board for its decision, commenting that members had, “voted to prescribe a certain teaching based on a narrow set of moral assumptions that not all families in Rio Rancho share.”7
The ACLU-NM also called out the one board member’s apparent conflict of interest. “It would appear there is a conflict of interest whereby [one member] voted for a policy not only in violation of state regulations but also one that benefits an organization she works for,” the ACLU-NM’s executive director commented.8
In an August 2007 editorial, the Albuquerque Tribune agreed with the ACLU-NM and decried the board’s decision. By the time the editorial came out, the school board member working for Best Choices had decided not to run for re-election when her term expired. Her husband, the former director of Best Choices was fired by the organization and had also stepped down as Mayor after months of unanswered questions about his practice of charging both the city and Best Choices for the same trip expenses.9
The controversy has also caught the attention of the state Education Department. A spokesperson for its School and Family Support Bureau said the department would review Rio Rancho’s policies, and if necessary, enforce a deadline for compliance.10
The New Mexico Department of Health received $502,785 in federal Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding in Fiscal Year 2007. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant requires states to provide three state-raised dollars or the equivalent in services for every four federal dollars received. The state match may be provided in part or in full by local groups. SIECUS was unable to obtain information on the exact amount the state received, how the required match is made, or how the monies were spent in New Mexico in Fiscal Year 2007. The funding is controlled by the New Mexico Department of Health.
Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding Status
In December 2007, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico decided no longer to participate in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. The Governor’s Health Secretary, Alfredo Vigil, announced the decision. Dr. Vigil cited several reasons why New Mexico will not reapply for the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds: “There has never been a scientific consensus about this,” Dr. Vigil explained.He continued, “It had an ideological base from people who just wanted this to happen for all kinds of reasons.”12 The decision goes into effect for Fiscal Year 2008.
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There are two CBAE grantees in New Mexico: Best Choices Educational Services, Inc., and Socorro General Hospital.
The CBAE grantee, Best Choices Educational Services, Inc. uses A.C. Green’s Game Plan in its programming. SIECUS reviewed Game Plan and found that the curriculum relies on messages of fear and shame, inaccurate and misleading information, and biased views of marriage, sexual orientation, and family structure to convince high school students to remain abstinent until marriage. In addition, Game Plan fails to provide important information on sexual health including how students can seek testing and treatment if they suspect they may have an Sth. Finally, the format and underlying biases of the curriculum do not allow for cultural, community, and individual values, and discourage critical thinking and discussions of alternate points of view in the classroom. For example, Game Plan states that, “Even if you’ve been sexually active, it’s never too late to say no. You can’t go back, but you can go forward. You might feel guilty or untrustworthy, but you can start over again.”
Best Choices Educational Services, Inc., was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2007 for its handling of its grant.13 The investigation stemmed from questionable billing practices by Kevin Jackson, then serving as both the Executive Director of Best Choices and the Mayor of Rio Rancho, who billed both the organization and the city of Rio Rancho for the same out-of-town trip. Jackson resigned from both positions in 2007 amid questions about his use of a city credit card.14 Best Choices Education applied for another CBAE grant in 2007, but the application was not accepted. (See the Events of Note section for more information on Best Choices and the Rio Rancho school district.)
Socorro General Hospital conducts an abstinence-only-until-marriage program under the hospital’s “Healthy Family Initiative.”15 Operating in the Socorro County, Alamo Navajo, Magdalena, La Promesa in Veguita, and Otero County areas, the Healthy Family Initiative conducts presentations about abstinence-until-marriage, tobacco prevention, sun safety awareness, family outreach, and youth development.16
Healthy Family Initiative also runs the “Wake Up and Drive – Abstinence Works!” website. In both Spanish and English, this website offers a section comparing marriage, sexuality, and car buying, and states, “Becoming physically intimate may sound like a good idea, like taking a ‘test drive,’ but it can lead to real problems in a relationship. Having sex before marriage to determine if the relationship will work out, is not taking a ‘test drive’! It is more like driving recklessly!”17 This section also answers questions from young readers. One asked “How much physical contact is okay when I’m dating someone?” The answer: “Remember that holding hands leads to kissing, deep kissing leads to petting, and petting can lead straight to sexual intercourse in moments of passion.”18 Suggesting sexual behavior is a force outside of young people’s control actually discourages them from making wise sexual decisions and taking responsibility for their actions. Young people need to know that at any point in a relationship, and at any point during sexual activity, they have the right and the ability to set their own sexual boundaries and that it is their responsibility to do so.
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007
* SIECUS was unable to obtain the exact amount of Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding New Mexico received or how the funds were used in Fiscal Year 2007.
Adolescent Health Contact19