See our other reports on New York City’s sex ed program here.
It looks like last week’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which Robert George and Melissa Moschella argue that sex education undermines parental rights and authority, seems to have fueled a new controversy over New York City’s mandate for sex education which was announced in August. Yesterday, three local politicians spoke out against the mandate at what has been alternatively described as a a rally or a press conference in Brooklyn.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) joined Representatives Bob Turner (R-Queens/Brooklyn) and Michael Grimm (R-Brooklyn/Staten Island) today in calling the program “explicit and graphic” and demanding the school system provide an abstinence-based alternative. In a written statement, Malliotakis acknowledged the need for sex ed but argued that this particular curriculum is being forced on children by the New York Department of Education. Turner added that parents had no say in the mandate and that, “The Archdiocese of New York, Orthodox Jewish groups, Muslims, many are saying this is a sensitive and delicate subject, and they want more say in what is taught.”
The event yesterday was largely informed by a group called the Parents Choice Coalition, which is adamantly opposed to the mandate. The group’s executive director is a former Democratic Assemblyman from the Bronx, Michael Benjamin. He argued: “New York is a multicultural city whose residents hold a variety of deeply held beliefs and social traditions. It’s wrong to force them to choose between what the city is planning and no sex education at all.”
While his argument sounds reasonable and I applaud him for realizing that all young people should have some sex education, his coalition is spreading misleading information about the materials that have been suggested for use in the city’s schools. For example, his website includes a video showing a condom being put onto a model which it describes as “the kind of condom demonstration your child will experience,” when in fact young people in middle school and high school will not see condom demonstrations as part of the sex ed course. Instead, they will be given verbal instructions on how to use them. Condom demonstrations (and condoms) are available to students in resource rooms as they have been for a number of years.
The group has also posted scanned copies of activities related to abortion and condom use that it calls explicit and railed against certain websites, in particular Go Ask Alice, that the suggested curriculum include as additional resources. The coalition’s financial backer, Greg Pfundstein of the anti-choice Chiaroscuro Foundation, argued that these activities are inappropriate: “You don’t have to be some religious fanatic to not want your ninth-grader comparison price-shopping for condoms at the local store.”
Benjamin suggests that parents just want a “traditional abstinence-based program” for their children. In many ways, the program that is in place, however, is just that. In fact, I would argue that any good sexuality education program is abstinence-based as it should help young people see the benefits of remaining abstinent and explain that abstinence is the best and most effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But programs can’t just discuss abstinence – as research on strict abstinence-only-until-marriage programs show them to be ineffective at best and potentially harmful at worst.
School Chancellor Dennis Walcott points out that “abstinence is a very important part of the curriculum, but,” he adds, “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.” He explained that this is why the school chose a comprehensive curriculum, and went on to say: “Abstinence is the only way to be 100 percent safe, but one-third of the new cases of chlamydia in NYC 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.”
It’s unclear how many people turned out for the rally/press conference yesterday but given the Chancellor’s reaction to critics it seems unlikely that this new round of protests will have any impact on the city’s long-in-the-works and long-overdue decision to require sex education.