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New York City Initiative to Support Black and Latino Males Mandates Sex Education in Schools

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced the launch of a new $127 million initiative to address the economic, educational, and employment barriers facing young African American and Latino men. The Young Men’s Initiative establishes a three-year plan to enact policy changes, agency reforms, and community programs in order to provide educational, employment, and mentoring opportunities to minority youth. In part, the new initiative requires New York City public schools to teach comprehensive sex education to middle and high school students; it goes into effect this school year.[1]
The new mandate goes beyond the state’s requirements for sex education. New York State does not require sex education to be taught in schools, but does require health education for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade and dictates that schools teach HIV/AIDS education. Such instruction must be age-appropriate and “provide accurate information to pupils concerning the nature of the disease, methods of transmission, and methods of prevention.”[2] The instruction must also stress abstinence as the most effective prevention method against HIV.
In New York City, sex education has long been provided through a patchwork of programs implemented in individual schools, without standardized guidelines or lessons provided across classrooms and with inconsistent instruction given.[3] In 2008, the New York City Department of Education piloted a sex education program in 10 schools in the South Bronx. A process evaluation of the program that was conducted among school principals and teachers who administered the program revealed that students lacked basic knowledge about human sexuality, such as reproductive anatomy. Findings also showed that students were eager to receive the information and that parents and school administrators strongly supported the program. However, the program was never replicated in other schools.[4]
The new mandate comes at a time when young people in New York City are disproportionately impacted by high rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. New York City has the highest rates of HIV infection and AIDS cases in the United States; between January and June 2010 alone, the highest percentage of new HIV diagnoses (30.2%) was among young people ages 20–29.[5] In addition, in 2009 the highest percentage of reported Chlamydia and gonorrhea cases in New York was among adolescent females ages 15–19.[6]
To address sexual health among students, the new mandate requires schools to teach one semester of sex education in sixth or seventh grade and one semester in ninth or tenth grade. It is suggested that schools use the department of education’s recommended curricula, HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk.[7] HealthSmart is a comprehensive health education curriculum that includes a unit on personal and family health; the unit provides students with information in order to “identify and seek help for troublesome feelings,” prevent bullying, resolve conflicts, “develop respect for their bodies,” and “practice behaviors that prevent the spread of diseases.”[8] Reducing the Risk is an evidence-based sexuality education curriculum that emphasizes strategies for abstaining from sex and practicing safer sex. The 16-lesson curriculum addresses both abstinence and contraception use and includes experiential activities that teach students to develop refusal, negotiation, and communication skills.[9]
Polling has shown strong support among New York voters for teaching comprehensive sex education in schools: a survey conducted in 2009 found that 85 percent of New Yorkers support providing such education to students.[10]
“We are pleased that New York City is committed to addressing the needs of African American and Latino adolescent males and implementing policies that will impact the health and well-being of all youth,” comments Monica Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “Mandating sex education is certainly a huge step in the right direction and the city should be lauded for its efforts. However, equipping young people with the tools and information to make responsible decisions and protect their health requires consistent education as well as access to youth-friendly health services. We hope that New York City takes further steps to extend the sex education mandate to all grade levels and that New York State follows suit. The instruction provided should also teach students where to access appropriate health care services if and when they do choose to become sexually active.”

[1]Fernanda Santos and Anna M. Phillips, “New York City Will Mandate Sex Education,” New York Times, 9 August 2011, accessed 29 August 2011, <>.

[2]New York State Regulations of the Commissioner of Education §§ 135.3(b)(2) and (c)(2)(i), <>.

[3]NARAL Pro-Choice New York, “New York City Mandates Sex Education for Public Schools,” Press Release published 9 August 2011, accessed 29 August 2011, <>.

[4]New York Civil Liberties Union, “New Sex Ed Mandate in NYC Schools is a Great Step Forward for Students’ Health,” Press Release published 10 August 2011, accessed 29 August 2011, <>; see also SIECUS New York State Profile, fiscal year 2009, <http://www.siecus.local/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=1236>.

[5]Table 1, “HIV/AIDS Diagnoses and Deaths Occurring January 1,2010 through June 30, 2010, and Persons Diagnosed and Reported in New York City and Presumed to be Living with HIV/AIDS as of June 30, 2010,” HIV Epidemiology and Field Services Semiannual Report (New York: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, April 2011), accessed 29 August 2011, <>.

[6]Figure 1a, “Chlamydia Reported to the NYC DOHMH. Case rates (per 100,000 population) by Age and Sex, Full Year 2009,” and figure 1b, “Gonorrhea Reported to the NYC DOHMH. Case rates (per 100,000 population) by Age and Sex, Full Year 2009,” Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Disease Control Quarterly Report (New York: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2010), accessed 29 August 2011, <>.

[7]Santos Phillips, “New York City Will Mandate Sex Education.”

[8]“Health Smart Curriculum,” West Middle Island School (New York), accessed 23 May 2010, <>.

[9]Science and Success: Sex Education and Other Programs That Work to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, HIV & Sexually Transmitted Infections (Washington, DC: Advocates for Youth, 2008), accessed 30 March 2010, <>, 23–24.

[10]Planned Parenthood of New York City, “New York City Requires Teaching of Sex Education in Schools,” Press Release published 10 August 2011, accessed 29 August 2011, <>.