Is your child getting sex education at school? The subject, often taught in health classes in middle and high school, may not be as prevalent as most parents think.
The health curriculum set up by the New York City Department of Education, which includes comprehensive sex education, is only recommended. The only health curriculum city public schools are required to teach is set by the state, which emphasizes a strong understanding of healthy choices, but says nothing specifically about sexual health.
“Schools do not have to use our curriculum, they just have to meet the state standards. They are required to teach to the health education standards set up by the state,” said Marge Feinberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education. “They can use their own curriculum as long as it meets those requirements.”
According to Planned Parenthood of New York City, this is a surprise to most New Yorkers, who polls say are in favor of comprehensive sex education. A study conducted by Hart Research Associates for Planned Parenthood found that 85 percent of registered voters in New York City are in favor of comprehensive sex education, and 77 percent believe that sex education is a required part of school curriculum.
The advocacy group wants to make sex education a requirement, and is asking parents for help with a grassroots effort, “We’re Going to the Principal’s Office.” The goal for the campaign, which started in September 2009, is to get parents to meet with the principal of their child’s school and request comprehensive sex education. The group has focused on reaching out to the city’s community boards for support.
And education is needed, Planned Parenthood argues. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeiene, about one in three young people in grades 9 through 12 are currently sexually active, and nearly one in five report having had four or more sex partners in their lifetime. Yet only two-thirds of New York City’s sexually active youth report using condoms at all, and one in five girls did not use any birth control the last time they had sex.
“We have been meeting with the mayor’s office and the Department of Education for years in order to advocate for sex education to be a required part of New York City’s school curriculum,” said Dana Czuczka, who is in charge of government outreach for the organization. “We decided to get parents involved because we thought the message would be more effective coming from them.”
Planned Parenthood has also been working with Borough President Scott Stringer. In 2003, as a member of the New York State Assembly, Stringer issued a report revealing that the department’s “Family Living/Sex Education” curriculum was outdated and lacked proper oversight. He suggested that Planned Parenthood reach out to community boards.
“As they act as a voice for the people, we felt that this was the perfect place to recruit as many parents and community stakeholders as possible,” Czuczka said.
The organization has met with all of Manhattan’s community boards so far, and all have supported Planned Parenthood’s efforts. That includes Community Board 7 on the West Side and Community Board 8 on the East Side north of East 59th Street. Both passed a resolution in favor of comprehensive sex education in all public schools. Community Board 6’s youth and education committee passed a resolution in favor of the plan, which the full board will consider April 14.
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