The Garden City schools superintendent rejected an assertion by the state's top public health official that abstinence education programs in the district fueled growth of unwanted teen pregnancy in Finney County. 

Superintendent Steve Karlin said he was puzzled the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said abstinence-only instruction in Garden City was "failing" and contributed to an escalation in the number of unwanted pregnancies within the county.

Karlin said KDHE reports indicated pregnancy among 10- to 17-year-olds in Finney County had declined every year since 2012. The total fell in this age category from 32 pregnancies in 2012 to 10 pregnancies in 2010. Also, KDHE reported Finney County pregnancies among women 18 or 19 years of age went down by nearly half since 2011.

"This is a reflection of, not only the efforts of dedicated teachers, counselors and nurses from Garden City public schools but also various community agencies and organizations who strive to provide support, education and resources to our local population," Karlin said.

He said Garden City's science and health teachers, as well as school nurses and counselors, offered instruction on the biology of sexual reproduction. Materials on contraception are available to students, he said.

"Garden City public schools utilize an abstinence-based approach, where students are taught that the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy or the transmission of a sexually transmitted infection is to abstain from sexual activity," Karlin said.

On Aug. 8, KDHE Secretary Lee Norman told The Topeka Capital-Journal's editorial advisory board that an abstinence-only education curriculum was inadequate to cut the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. In support of his argument, he said Finney County had a rising rate of teen pregnancy.

Garden City school officials didn't respond at that time to a request for comment about Norman's claims. In response to Karlin's critique of Norman's statements, a spokeswoman for the KDHE secretary issued a statement.

"I appreciate the opportunity to continue to have a dialogue about such important health matters as we continue to study this issue in Kansas," Norman said.

A separate KDHE report tracks annual abortion statistics by county across Kansas. It doesn't differentiate by age within each county, but it indicated frequency of abortion among Finney County residents has been escalating since 2012 despite a statewide trend of fewer abortions among Kansans.

The number of abortions involving Kansans has dropped in the past decade from 5,511 in 2008 to 3,405 in 2017.

In terms of Finney County in that period, the high for abortions was 49 in 2008. The total dipped to 10 in 2010 but increased to between 29 and 35 from 2013 to 2016. In 2017, the county's residents reported 44 abortions.