Under Chicago’s new policy, championed by Dr. Stephanie Whyte, Chief Health Officer for Chicago Public Schools, kindergarteners through 12th graders in Chicago will receive sexual health education that is tailored to their age group. The previous sex-ed policy in Chicago Public Schools had taught students “abstinence as the expected norm,” which according to Whyte, does not decrease adolescent risky behaviors.
When Whyte came into her position at Chicago Public Schools in January 2012, high school students in Chicago were twice as likely to have sex before they turned 13, than in the rest of the country, according to the Center for Disease Control. Between 2000-2006, young Chicagoans between 15 - 24 years-old saw a 42% increase in HIV diagnoses, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. And 27% of Chicago high school students said they never received any instruction in school about AIDS or HIV.
Amidst the troubling data, Whyte saw an opportunity to revamp sexual health education, and connect it to several larger public health issues. She said the new sex-ed policy aligns with President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS strategy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Healthy Chicago initiative.
Under the National Sexuality Education Standards, by the end of second grade, students should be able to use correct names for female and male anatomy, and explain why bullying is wrong. They should also be able to demonstrate how to clearly say no, how to leave an uncomfortable situation, and how to identify and talk with a trusted adult if someone is touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. In fourth grade students begin learning about puberty and adolescence, and how to use contraception and prevent HIV in middle school.
“Clearly we won’t be talking about sexually transmitted infections in kindergarten... But we’re talking about ‘good touch, bad touch,’ my body, living things reproduce, family, feelings, bullying -- those topics everyone can feel comfortable with,” said Whyte.
The new policy has inspired harsh criticism from some parents and reglious organizations. The New American cited Peter Sprigg of the Familly Research Council telling the Christian Post that early-childhood sex education "is part of the legacy of Alfred Kinsey, and the belief that 'children are sexual from birth.' This is a false and pernicious idea that introduces words, thoughts, and concepts to children long before it is developmentally appropriate for them. This premature exposure may contribute to early sexual activity, when we should be working to prevent it.”
“It’s challenging because it has the word ‘sex’ in it,” said Dr. Elizabeth Schroeder, Executive Director of Answer, a national organization that promotes comprehensive sex-ed, and co-author of the National Sexuality Standards. “So people misunderstand, and think we’re teaching about sexual behaviors,” she said.
“I always say to parents, ‘Do you want them to get it from you? Or do you want them to get it from the Internet?... [Parents] are in charge of the values, the school is responsible for the facts. If you work together, you’ve done a complete education for the young person,” she added. Parents will still have the option to opt their children out of these lessons.
Schroeder believes that sexual health education is no different than any other subject, and needs to be embedded in a child’s instruction from the beginning. “Tenth and eleventh grades were not the first grades you had math. You could not have understood geometry and trigonometry unless you had addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in earlier grades... It’s exactly the same thing with health sex education, but we set kids up for failure... The first time they’re hearing from us it’s about pregnancy prevention, STD prevention, disaster prevention, and fear-based messages,” she said.
Whyte explained that one of the biggest changes included in the new sexuality standards are the “minute requirements” for each grade level. Before, teachers were trained to teach sex-ed, but there was no set topic list, sequence of instruction or required length of time spent on the subject. Therefore, each classroom got very different instruction. She said she hopes the new standards, curriculum and teacher training will result in more effective delivery of the material. And ultimately, she hopes to see the youth risk behaviors like teen pregnancy, and rates of sexually transmitted infections decrease.
Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
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