Thirty organizations, including health care providers, HIV/AIDS prevention and education advocates, youth service providers and legal and policy advocates, have joined the New York Civil Liberties Union in urging New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to expand a successful sex education pilot program in the South Bronx to all of the city’s public middle and high schools next year, with the ultimate goal of making age-appropriate, comprehensive sex ed available to all students in all grades.
In April, the NYCLU obtained a previously unreleased evaluation of a Department of Education-approved, evidence-based sexuality education program that was piloted in 10 South Bronx middle and high schools during the spring semester of the 2007-2008 school year. According to the evaluation, which was recently completed by the DOE and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the pilot program was widely supported by teachers, principals, parents and students in the seven schools that completed it.
In a letter to Klein, the advocacy organizations maintained that the positive findings and the availability of new federal funding for evidence-based unintended pregnancy prevention programs make a strong case for expanding the pilot program citywide.
“For too long, the city has failed to provide students the information they need to make healthy choices about sex,” said Galen Sherwin, director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “The success of the South Bronx pilot program shows that the DOE can provide evidence-based comprehensive sex education to the city’s young people. Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg must focus on implementing similar programs citywide.”
Comprehensive sexuality education is not a part of the required curriculum in New York State. City schools are not required to provide sexuality education despite a clear need for it: New York City has the highest rates of HIV and AIDS infection in the United States. According to 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data, 41 percent of New York City youth reported becoming sexually active by 9th grade and 58 percent by 12th grade.
The evaluation of the South Bronx pilot revealed that:
- Students were highly engaged in the program;
- Very few parents chose to opt their children out of it;
- All of the teachers who completed the program reported that providing sex education in school is important and several said it should be mandatory;
- All of the principals who participated in a final focus group said they would use the curricula again and recommend them to other principals.
These positive findings create an opportunity for the city to take advantage of increased federal funding for comprehensive sex education programs. In fact, we understand that the DOE is in the process of applying for funds recently made available by the federal Office of Adolescent Health. In the request for proposals, the Office of Adolescent Health lists the curriculum used in the Bronx pilot program among the evidence-based programs eligible for federal funding.
“We applaud the DOE for taking advantage of this funding opportunity to expand sex ed in New York City middle and high schools, and we urge them to use these funds to further the goal of making sex ed a requirement in all New York City schools,” said Karyn Brownson, director of the NYCLU’s Teen Health Initiative. “In expanding sex ed programming, the DOE can draw on the knowledge and expertise of the many community-based organizations that have spent years engaging and educating New York City students on issues of sexual health.”
The following organizations signed the letter: Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS; Bushwick IMPACT; The Children’s Aid Society, Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program; WCLA – Choice Matters; The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families; Community Healthcare Network; Gay Men’s Health Crisis; Girls Incorporated of New York City; Health & Education Alternatives for Teens; The HIV Law Project, Center for Women and HIV Advocacy; Love Heals; The Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center; Lutheran Family Health Centers; Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center; National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS; NOW – New York City; NOW – New York State; New Settlement Apartments; New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault; NYCLU; New York State Coalition for School-Based Health Centers; Planned Parenthood of New York City; Public Health Solutions; SIECUS; Sistas on the Rise; SUNY Downstate Medical Center; Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation; Women’s Initiative to Stop HIV of the Legal Action Center; Women’s City Club of New York; Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition.