Let’s not talk about sex, baby.
At least, maybe not in such detail, in so many different ways, according to some Queens legislators and parents irate with the city’s mandatory sex education curriculum, being implemented in schools citywide in January. Other residents, however, said the curriculum — which touches on topics like abortion, condom use and abstinence — is needed for students whose parents may not address sex-related issues with them.
“The district I represent is religiously and culturally diverse, with parents who deserve to have more options when it comes to how their children should be educated about sex,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn), who joined other politicians and the New York City Parents’ Choice Coalition, an advocacy group, at a press conference in Brooklyn this week to lobby for an abstinence-based program. “I agree that parents who are uncomfortable with the newly-mandated curriculum be offered an alternative course of study. This is about respecting the diversity of cultural backgrounds in our communities.”
Mayor Bloomberg’s administration announced in August that it would mandate all public schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade and again in 9th or 10th grade beginning this January.
For nearly two decades, principals have largely determined whether or not to teach sex education in their schools. A city survey found that 64 percent of middle schools last year used a sex education program recommended by the city.
Bloomberg and other city officials said the new mandatory program is meant to curb teenage pregnancies and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
“Abstinence is a very important part of the curriculum, but we also have a responsibility to ensure that teenagers who are choosing to have sex understand the potential consequences of their actions and know how to keep themselves safe,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in an emailed statement this week. “So we need a comprehensive curriculum. Abstinence is the only way to be 100 percent safe, but one-third of the new cases of chlamydia in New York City are in teenagers, and a significant percentage of our teenagers have had multiple sexual partners, so we can’t stick our heads in the sand about this.”
But Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said the city should focus its concerns elsewhere.
“The Department of Education should be more concerned with getting back to basics and leave the heart-to-heart conversations about sex to parents,” Ulrich said. “… Eleven-year-olds have enough to worry about and don’t need teachers or school administrators exposing them to in-depth sex topics. Especially at a time of dwindling resources and budget cuts to our schools, I can’t even fathom wasting money on a proposal like this.”
Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24, which covers schools in such areas as Maspeth and Middle Village, agreed. Over the summer, CEC 24 passed a resolution against sex education being mandated in school.
“Some of the things they plan on teaching are too racy, without a doubt,” he said. “We don’t feel it’s age appropriate. They want to start talking about this stuff when kids are 10 years old.”
Parents and legislators were especially up in arms that the curriculum lists Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice website as a recommended resource. The site, named after a 1971 book about a troubled teenage girl, addresses topics that parents said are not appropriate for students as young at 10, such as sadomasochism and pornography.
According to the Parents’ Choice Coalition, students would also be sent to drug stores to catalogue condom brands and visit abortion clinics, though the city did not confirm that.
Other parents, however, said they had no problem with a mandated sex education curriculum.
“The curriculum doesn’t advocate that people should have these sex acts; it just talks about them,” said Rob Caloras, the former president of Community Education Council 26, which includes schools in much of northern Queens. “I have seen the curriculum, and I have no problem with it. People have to understand what they’re getting involved with as they become sexually attuned. It’s frightening when you talk to people who have no clue — girls who don’t understand menstruation or boys who don’t understand what they’re going through.”
Bonnie Piller, whose daughter is a seventh-grade student at PS 128 in Middle Village, also said the curriculum is a “positive thing.”
“There’s so much out there in the media, in social networking, that these kids see, and you have to address these things,” Piller said.
“Hopefully you have families at home discussing these topics, but you have to think about the children who aren’t getting that type of guidance,” she added.