New York City Mandates More-Comprehensive Sex Ed
By Mary Walsh, SIECUS Program Research Intern
New York City’s Department of Education has announced a mandate that public middle and high schools provide more comprehensive co-ed sexual health education classes, including lessons on condom use and safer sex practices; it will require a semester of sexual health education in 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade. The two curricula recommended for use are HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk, which were previously approved and recommended by the Office of School Wellness Programs. The curricula can be incorporated into existing health education classes, making implementation of the mandate easier. The mandate will also ensure that sexual health education across New York City is consistent in content.1
The initiative is specifically intended to address health disparities affecting Black and Latino students, who are at highest risk for unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. The goal of the mandate is to delay the average age of first sexual intercourse, while addressing the reality that some students are already engaging in risky sexual behaviors.2
Although the Department of Education has long mandated the teaching of K-12 HIV/AIDS awareness lessons in compliance with state law, 3 in-depth research with city voters and other school stakeholders confirms widespread support for teaching much more comprehensive sexuality education in local public schools.4
Opponents assert that abstinence, while already emphasized in the recommended curricula, should be the only topic taught. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn denounced the mandate, saying, “Yet again, our political leaders follow the trend of transferring authority to teachers from parents, and parents continue to lose the right to parent their own children.”5 New York City public schools have offered a parental opt-out on sexual health topics for over twenty years.
1 Jodi Jacobson, “New York City Mandates Comprehensive Sex Education in Public Schools,”
RH Reality Check, 10 August 2011, accessed 26 September 2011, <http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/08/10/york-city-mandates-comprehensive-education-public-schools>.
2 New York City Office of the Mayor, Press Release: “Mayor Bloomberg Launches Nation’s Most Comprehensive Effort to Tackle Disparities Between Young Black and Latino Males and Their Peers,” 4 August 2011, accessed 4 October 2011, <http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&catID=1194&doc_name=http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/2011b/pr282-11.html&cc=unused1978&rc=1194&ndi=1>.
3 New York City Department of Education, Office of School Wellness Programs, HIV/AIDS Curriculum Overview, accessed 4 October 2011, <http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/FitnessandHealth/StandardsCurriculum/HIVAIDSoverview.htm>.
4 NARAL Pro-Choice New York Foundation and National Institute for Reproductive Health, If You Expect Us to Make Healthy Decisions, We Need Sex Ed: A Report on Sexuality Education in the New York City Public School System, accessed 4 October 2011, <http://www.prochoiceny.org/assets/files/sexedreport.pdf>.