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Nonprofit had ties to sex ed program it received $4.8 million to evaluate

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Millions of dollars in federal grants to evaluate a popular comprehensive sex education curriculum developed by the county where Seattle is located went to a nonprofit that had ties to the curriculum, Chalkboard has found.

King County’s public health department allocated nearly $5 million in federal grants to ETR to evaluate its high school sex education curriculum, called FLASH, while the nonprofit was listed as a distributor of it.

ETR also offers its own comprehensive sex education curriculums, including one called Get Real.

Chalkboard previously reported that the evaluation by ETR researchers found the program did not change student behavior. The county continues to describe it as effective.

King County received more than $4.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services between 2015 and 2019 to evaluate the outcomes of students who participated in its FLASH program versus those who did not.

ETR evaluators concluded the “program did not reduce unprotected vaginal sex or sexual initiation across the entire study population as hypothesized.” The article was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health last year.

A 2017 review of sexual health materials by the state of Washington lists ETR as the distributor of FLASH and lists ETR’s website as the way to access FLASH.

The article publishing the results of the evaluation funded by the federal grant said there were “no real or perceived conflicts of interest for the paper authors, and the study sponsor did not play a role in the study or submission.”

When Chalkboard asked ETR researchers about the evaluation results, researchers directed inquiries to the King County public health department.

“Public Health – Seattle & King County has been the only publisher of the FLASH curriculum since its inception,” a department spokesperson told Chalkboard. “ETR sells many curricula, but FLASH has never been one of them. The FLASH curriculum was housed on ETR’s web platform from 2015-2021.”

“FLASH’s relationship to ETR is through a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program to conduct the evaluation of High School FLASH,” the spokesperson continued.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs did not return Chalkboard’s request for comment.

The evaluation found that teaching students FLASH did not improve overall student behaviors such as waiting to have sex or using birth control.

But for students who had not been sexually active before the program, the evaluation found FLASH reduced rates of sex and sex without birth control and had positive effects on student thinking “such as refusal and condom use self-efficacy, attitudes toward birth control and condoms, and perceived norms.”

King County maintains that the evaluation proves the program’s effectiveness.

“High School FLASH, 3rd edition, has been rigorously evaluated and found to be an effective, proven program at reducing unintended pregnancy and STDs among teens,” King County’s website reads. “The evaluation of High School FLASH was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was conducted by ETR Associates, an independent outside evaluator.”

The Department of Health and Human Services provided the $4.8 million grant to King County to evaluate the program as part of the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program.

The TPP allocates nearly $90 million in federal funds a year to public and private entities in an effort to replicate effective teen pregnancy prevention programs.

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