Rhode Island State Profile
Community-based organizations in Rhode Island received $400,260 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
Rhode Island Sexuality Education Law and Policy
Rhode Island schools are required to provide “accurate information and instruction” on sexuality, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Schools must also teach “the responsibilities of family membership and adulthood, including issues related to reproduction, abstinence, dating, marriage, and parenthood, as well as information about sexually transmitted diseases, sexuality and lifestyles.” These classes must stress abstinence.
In addition, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must “establish comprehensive AIDS instruction, which shall provide students with accurate information and instruction on AIDS transmission and prevention, and which course shall also address abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred means of prevention, as a basic education program requirement.”
The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education must establish a state health education curriculum for grades K-12. This curriculum, Rules and Regulations for School Health, is based on the Comprehensive Health Instructional and the Health Education Framework. Schools are required to use it.
Parents must be notified of sexuality education classes and may view the curriculum by submitting a written request. Students may be removed from instruction by written notification from the parent to the principal. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
See Rhode Island Statute 16-1-5, 16-22-17, and 16-22-18 as well as the Rules and Regulations for School Health, Comprehensive Health Instructional,and the Health Education Framework.
SIECUS is not aware of any proposed legislation regarding sexuality education in Rhode Island.
After Years of Controversy, Heritage of Rhode Island Closes
Heritage of Rhode Island, an abstinence-only-until-marriage provider, shut its doors in December 2007 after weathering more than two years of scrutiny from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), parents and the ACLU. In that time, the program was also banned and then re-approved by RIDE for use in public schools.
In 2004, Heritage of Rhode Island, which received training and curricula from Heritage Community Services of South Carolina, began receiving a federal abstinence-only-until-marriage grants of $400,260 per year. That same year, a Pawtucket mother objected to a negative characterization of single parents in a Heritage workbook her son brought home and called the ACLU for help.2
The ACLU began by writing a letter to the state education commissioner charging that the Heritage program “promoted sexist stereotypes, isolated gay and lesbian students, and did not appear to comport with the state’s comprehensive sex education standards.”3 In March 2006, RIDE banned Heritage of Rhode Island from public schools because it failed to meet the state standards. The decision was celebrated by the Pawtucket parents and the ACLU, but it was short-lived.
In December 2006, RIDE reversed its decision and approved the use of a revised version of Heritage of Rhode Island’s abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum. The state education commissioner explained that Heritage received approval after it incorporated the recommendations of a review committee.4 The revised curriculum included information about the efficacy of condoms and how they are used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Heritage also removed a handout that compared marriage and cohabitation.
After being re-approved, Heritage began discussions with schools in Warwick and Woonsocket about implementing its revised curriculum but it faced continued opposition from the ACLU and many other community groups. The groups sent a letter to principals urging them to reject the program because it included “dangerous medical inaccuracies about pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted diseases” and sent “an inappropriate message to students from non-traditional households.”5
The fight was cut short, however, when Heritage’s federal grant was not renewed, and the organization officially closed in the winter of 2007. The former executive director of Heritage of Rhode Island said he was disappointed, but not surprised that the grant was not renewed. Rhode Island was a “limited market,” he continued. He also admitted that some principals had expressed concern over the media coverage of the controversy over Heritage.6
Rhode Island would have been eligible for $165,277 in federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds 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. However, the state did not apply for these funds due to the extraordinary restrictions upon how the money must be spent. Therefore, the state does not match funds nor does it have organizations supported by this type of federal money.
Rhode Island did use remaining funds from Fiscal Year 2006 to continue supporting its previous Title V sub-grantee, the Greater Bridgeport Adolescent Pregnancy Program.
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There is one CBAE grantee in Rhode Island: Heritage of Rhode Island. There are no AFLA grantees in Rhode Island.
Heritage of Rhode Island was affiliated with Heritage Community Services of South Carolina. Heritage of Rhode Island has several abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, including the “Heritage Keepers Club” and “Right Time, Right Place.” These programs use curricula adapted from Heritage Community Services of South Carolina. SIECUS reviewed Heritage Keepers, Abstinence Education I, one of the curricula created by Heritage Community Services,and found that itcontains very little information about important topics in human sexuality such as puberty, anatomy, and sexual behavior. Even topics that are frequently discussed in detail in other abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, such as condoms and STDs, receive very little mention. Instead, the curriculum devotes most of its lessons to the importance of marriage and abstinence before marriage. It relies on messages of fear and shame and promotes biased views of gender, marriage, and pregnancy options. For example, the curriculum tells students “Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated. This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.”8 Heritage of Rhode Island’s grant ended during 2007 and the organization has since closed its doors. (See the Events of Note section for more information on the closing of this organization.).
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007
*SIECUS was unable to obtain the exact funding amount.