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Sex Ed in New York City Schools: The Facts

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SEX EDUCATION
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Sex sells. That's why for the past week newspapers and blogs have plastered their front pages with articles dissecting and lambasting New York City's new sex education mandate and recommended curriculum.

But The New York Post in particular did a gross disservice to parents and observers across the city by printing flagrantly false information about our recommended sex education curriculum.

So let's get to the truth.

As part of New York City's new sex education mandate (effective in the second semester of the 2011- 2012 school year), schools will be required to include sexual health education topics as part of comprehensive health education. New York State already requires that students have a semester course of comprehensive health education in middle and high school.

What will be different in City public schools is that middle and high school students will be required to receive sex education lessons during the semester of health education already planned.

New York City took this step because we believe we have a responsibility to ensure that both middle school and high school students are exposed to valuable and medically accurate information so they can learn to keep themselves safe before, and when, they decide to have sex.

Contrary to what some have claimed, the Department of Education has not mandated a specific curriculum for schools -- but we do have a recommended curriculum that has been used in many of our schools since it was selected in 2007 after careful review by an advisory panel of health and education experts, as well as community organizations and parents.

For middle school students, we recommend the NYC version of the Middle School HealthSmart Curriculum, and for high schools we recommend using High School HealthSmart with Reducing the Risk. Both versions that the Department of Education uses and provides to our schools (free to schools that attend training) are different from the version nationally available. New York City worked with the publisher -- years ago -- to make modifications so that the curriculum would be appropriate for our students and meet DOE policy.

For example, contrary to what The New York Post reported, the risk card activity that 11 and 12 year olds will supposedly be doing is actually one of the lessons we removed from HealthSmart because we didn't think it was age-appropriate.

Another error in their reporting -- New York City DOE does not refer teens to resources such as Columbia University's GoAskAlice.com website. GoAskAlice.com is listed in teacher materials as one of many in a list of possible resources that teachers can utilize for tips on answering questions on sexuality. We do not direct students to the website. But far be it for facts to get in the way of a good "XXX" headline.

Reducing the Risk is a research-based sex risk reduction curriculum that is shown to help delay the initiation of sexual intercourse, increase the use of contraception among teens who do initiate sexual intercourse, and increase parent-child communication about abstinence and contraception.

Both HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk emphasize that abstinence is the best way to avoid risk. Students are encouraged to talk to their families about these topics in the context of their family values. They both state that students should use protection correctly and consistently if they currently are or will choose to become sexually active later in their lives.

Sex Ed lessons include medically accurate information, as well as lessons on developing communication skills, talking to your parents, avoiding high risk situations, refusal and delay tactics, and recognizing healthy and unhealthy relationships.

NYC Department of Education's Office of School Wellness Programs is working hard to get our schools ready to meet this new mandate.

We understand that some people don't want their children learning about condoms or birth control in school. That is why, as with our HIV/AIDS curriculum that has been in place for many years, there is a parental opt-out for specific lessons on contraception and birth control.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine, one third of the City's Chlamydia cases were reported in teens age 15-19 years old. More than 25 percent of male Hispanic teens, and 31 percent of male Black teens reported having had multiple sex partners. And even more trouble, 29 percent of male Hispanic teens, 24 percent of male white teens, and 14.85 percent of black teens reported that they did NOT use a condom the last time they had sex.

As Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott likes to say: we cannot stick our heads in the sand.

We need to educate our students about sex and the potential, very dangerous consequences of engaging in risky behavior. This is serious work, and "bawdy" headlines do a disservice to the public, who deserve factual information about this critical public health and education initiative.