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Parents Prevail as School Board Moves Toward More Comprehensive Curriculum

Pittsburgh, PA

Last March, hundreds of parents signed a petition to the Pittsburgh School Board demanding changes to its abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum.  After originally defending the curriculum as reflecting “the city’s conservative mindset,” the board has now approved a new policy that will include information about contraception and sexual orientation.[1] 

Parents first approached the board a year ago asking for the district to teach more than just abstinence.  The board promised to form a task force to examine the abstinence-only-until-marriage program, but when it failed to do so, two of the parents created an online petition demanding comprehensive sexuality education.[2]  The petition criticized the curriculum for trying to scare students from sex and for promoting heterosexual marriage as the standard of behavior.  “In Pittsburgh Public Schools, teens aren’t receiving the information they need to make healthy and responsible life decisions,” the parents wrote.[3]  The school district once again responded by making plans to review the program, but refused to promise any changes.

The team of teachers, parents, administrators, and community leaders assembled to review the program found, among other problems, that health teachers rarely knew what was expected of them.  It ultimately recommended a new policy that still emphasizes abstinence, but also includes information on contraception, sexual orientation, sexual dysfunction, sexual abuse, and gender roles.[4]  The board approved this policy at its meeting in the last week of February.

The decision was welcomed by a number of students and parents.  One student and young mother commented that the additional information might have helped her prevent her pregnancy, while a parent agreed that the policy needed to be “a little bit more liberal.”[5]

The school’s chief academic officer will now lead a team in developing a new curriculum for the district.  He said that schools expect to begin implementing the program in the fall of 2009.

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[1] Joe Smydo, “Sex-Ed Topics Too Narrow, Group Says,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17 March 2008, accessed 18 March 2008, <www.post-gazette.com/pg/08077/865776-298.stm>.
[2] For more information see the March 2008 SIECUS Community Action Update: <www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=1085&pageid=486&parentid=478>.
[3] “Pittsburgh Parents Petition for Sex Ed,” Associated Content.com, 20 March 2008, accessed 16 April 2008, <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/662949/ pittsburgh_parents_petition_for_sex.html>
[4] Bill Zlatos, “Pittsburg Schools’ Sex Ed Won’t Stop at Birds, Bees,” Pittsburgh Tribune, 3 March 2009, accessed on 24 March 2009, <http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_614150.html>.
[5] Ibid.

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