After nearly twenty years with no required sex education curriculum, New York City’s public schools will obligate students to take sex education classes, which will provide instruction on how to put on a condom, as well as informing students of the appropriate age for sexual activity. The new requirements are part of a larger effort to improve the lives of black and Latino youth, whom the Bloomberg administration says are disproportionately affected by the current “patchwork” system of programs.
According to the New York Times, “City officials said that while there would be frank discussions with students as young as 11 on topics like anatomy, puberty, pregnancy and the risks of unprotected sex, the focus was to get students to wait until they were older to experiment. At the same time, knowing that many teenagers are sexually active, the administration wants to teach them about safe sex in the hopes of reducing pregnancy, disease and dropouts.”
In a letter to school principals, Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote that the current “uneven system…does not serve our students well. We must be committed,” he continued, “to ensuring that both middle school and high school students are exposed to this valuable information so they can learn to keep themselves safe before, and when, they decide to have sex.”
However, parents will be able to opt their children out of the classes on birth control methods.
The Catholic Archdiocese of New York, which has been quite outspoken of late on the issue of same-sex marriage, condemned the move. ”Parents have the right and the responsibility to be the first and primary educators of their children,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese, wrote. “This mandate by the city usurps that role, and allows the public school system to substitute its beliefs and values for those of the parents.”
Except — many parents aren’t educating their children about sex. And, as the New York Times editorial board points out, teenagers are having sex at younger and younger ages. A NYT blog is soliciting comments from students 13 and older about the ways that they learned about sex, and some of the responses are frankly disturbing. One student writes:
“The vast majority of my knowledge of sex (safe sex, sexual manners, orientations, what is acceptable and unacceptable, etc) came from the websites I ventured to when I got curious. However, it was a long time before I found credible sources of information instead of learning ‘acceptable’ behavior from pornography.”
Surely it’s better to have students taught about sex in the classroom by someone who accepts the possibility that students might not want to stay abstinent until marriage, and prepares them to make safe, responsible sexual decisions. Given the rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancy among New York City’s teens, it’s heartening to see that the responsibility for comprehensive sex education is finally being placed with the schools.
Photo from Victoria Peckham via flickr.