Monday, February 15, 2010

Sex (Ed) in the (NY) City

NYC schools are in need of a better approach on sex education. Also, Westchester County stumbled last week as it attempted to address its history of racial discrimination in housing.

Sex Education for NYC Schools

With Manhattan (and all other NYC boroughs other than Staten Island) experiencing teen pregnancy rates well above the New York State average and above the national average as well, the lack of effective sex education in our schools should be addressed.

Teen pregnancy rates are rising across the country, largely as a result of the George W. Bush Administration policies opposing quality sex education and forcing school systems to embrace abstinence-only education in order to obtain federal funds. Now that the George W. Bush Administration has receded into history, there is no longer an excuse for New York City's lack of effective sex education.

In New York State, the abstinence-only curriculum was so thoroughly discredited that it was abandoned during the Bush Administration's reign. In some communities outside of New York, health officials are encouraging teens to ask questions of health experts, including through the use of text messaging. It is time for some innovative approaches to this issue to make their way to our city.

NYCLU Principles

The NYCLU has proposed steps to institute comprehensive sex education in New York City schools. Below are their proposed principles for moving forward in our city. With the end of the abstinence-only era, New York City should help lead the country in applying 21st Century tools and common sense to the sex education effort.

Sex Education Must be Taught Every Year: Research shows that when young people have accurate information -- whether or not they are sexually active at the time -- they are much more likely to protect themselves when they do enter into relationships. The Chancellor should issue a regulation requiring the teaching of age-appropriate sexuality education every year, rather than leaving inclusion to the discretion of individual principals. Ideally, sex education lessons would be integrated into the six HIV/AIDS lessons mandated to be taught in grades seven to 12 every year. The former Family Living including Sex Education (FL/SE curriculum), which was in use in the 1980s, was required every year; we can not afford to take a step backwards regarding the new curriculum.

Contraception and Prevention Must be Taught: 95 percent of parents of junior high school students believe that birth control and other methods of preventing pregnancy are appropriate topics for sexuality education programs in schools. We know many NYC middle school students are already sexually active; one in 10 students reports having had sex before the age of 13. Incorporating information on contraception promotes health and prevention strategies; to deny middle school students access to the information to protect themselves is irresponsible from a public health perspective. Furthermore, DOE should heed the advice of their consultants and curriculum and include condom demonstrations as a part of comprehensive sexuality education at the high school level. Condom demonstrations are vital to teaching proper usage and should be included in classrooms at the high school level.

Sexual Orientation Diversity Must be Acknowledged: DOE must clearly commit to including issues concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth (LGBTQ) youth in the sex ed curriculum. CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Surveys have found that, as a result of violence and isolation, LGBTQ young people are two to five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to report skipping school because of feeling unsafe during the past month, and more than four times as likely to say they made a serious suicide attempt in the past year. Curricular inclusion, especially within health education models, is a necessary component of remedying the isolation of LGBTQ youth. Additionally, 79 percent of parents want their children to learn about sexual orientation in sex education classes at school.

Sex Education Must Have An Implementation Plan: We recognize that implementation will take time given the complexity and size of the New York City school system; however, we hope that the implementation of health education will be given the same attention and priority as any other subject matter. When the DOE updated the HIV/AIDS curriculum during the last school year, it created an ambitious schedule of parent meetings and selected a week in March for implementation in elementary schools, but offered no implementation plan for middle and high schools. The sex ed implementation plan that is created should be comprehensive for grades seven to 12.

Sex Education Must Be Taught By Trained Teachers: Both state and city mandates require specific levels of teacher training for HIV/AIDS education. We are delighted that DOE has finally selected evidenced-based curricula, but the best curriculum in the world isn’t of any use if teachers are not comfortable teaching. Teachers don’t need a “script,” but rather training to empower them to make appropriate decisions regarding their students. For the HIV/AIDS curriculum a “train the trainer” model was used, but we have yet to learn how many teachers were actually trained or even which schools sent staff. DOE must ensure that teachers receive adequate training to accurately and sensitively offer sexuality education.

Sex Education Requires a Plan for Evaluation: There must be a purposeful and public evaluation plan for the curriculum. Best program practices dictate that evaluation occurs from the very beginning of implementation, should be both quantitative and qualitative and should have buy-in from all stakeholders. Tools that will best measure knowledge, attitudinal and behavioral changes and track positive outcomes on a continuing basis must be designed as soon as possible and integrated into the implementation plan to ensure future success and public support of the curriculum. These components were not included in any meaningful way in the implementation of the HIV/AIDS curriculum. DOE should not make the same mistake again.

Westchester County's Housing Discrimination Response Plan Is Rejected

Westchester County was so aggressive in its racial discrimination in housing for all of the first decade of this century that it was forced to agree to a settlement of a racial discrimination suit. The settlement included having Westchester Country commit to build 750 units of housing geared toward attracting residents of color and spend $30 million on housing while paying the US government a penalty of $30 million for a total of $60 million of settlement costs of Westchester County. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York accepted the settlement in 2009.

Last week, Westchester County's plan for addressing its history of racial discrimination in housing was rejected by the court's monitor. The monitor gave specific feedback on the plan:

1) The county has not identified who would be responsible to ensure the settlement's mandates are carried out and fulfilled.

2) The plan "lacks any concrete short-, medium-, or long-term strategies for how the county plans to develop" the housing that will address the history of discrimination.

3) The county has not stated how it "will employ carrots and sticks" to ensure that the housing will be built over the objections of local municipalities targeted for units.

4) The county has not included general information about sites under consideration and should do so, even though the county expressed concerns that such information could affect the price of property.

Let us hope that Westchester County does a better job addressing its long history of racial discrimination in housing than it has addressing its settlement commitments thus far.

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