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NYCLU finds gaps in sexual education curriculum

Posted on September 20, 2012 | by Veronica Carchedi

A report  released last week by the New York Civil Liberties Union highlights the faults and gaps of the sexual education curriculum of 82 New York public school districts.

The NYCLU, a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization, claims that certain sexual education programs in New York state present incorrect medical information to students.

The report, titled “Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students,” states that although 93 percent of school districts provided information on HIV and AIDS, as stipulated by a 1987 New York state law, only 56 percent of the information was complete and scientifically accurate.

This disparity, according to the assistant advocacy director of the NYCLU, Johanna Miller, resulted from a lack of state-established standards for sexual education.

“All the things you see in the report, no matter how offensive, or how medically inaccurate, are permissible under New York state law,” Miller said. “Districts are using things that are no longer accurate on HIV, or they are using materials that they pulled together from the Internet, because no one is telling them not to.”

The report also acknowledges the problem of school districts using value-laden materials when teaching controversial topics.

About 35 percent of districts were found to use textbooks with anti-abortion biases, and several referred to fetuses and embryos as babies.

Although many advocates would assert that medical information should be presented without a moral slant, according to Steinhardt professor of History and Education John Zimmerman, it can be difficult to separate values from sexual education.

“There is no such thing as a value free statement about sex,” Zimmerman said. “I think it’s inevitable that on a subject as contested and as controversial as sex there would be enormous variation among districts.”

The NYCLU recommends the state decree a comprehensive sexual education program, one that teaches abstinence but also pregnancy and STD prevention methods such as condoms.

A major complaint in the report is that even though 80 percent of schools address condom use in their curricula, only one in three school districts actually demonstrates their proper use.

This resonates with former New York state public school student and CAS sophomore Tamara Mizhquiri, who graduated from Wappingers Central School District.

“They didn’t actually show us how to use a condom, they just told us about it,” Mizhquiri said.

Mizhquiri said LGBTQ and sexual identity issues were not covered in her sexual education class, which the report claims as a fault of many heterocentric curricula.

In a statement responding to the NYCLU’s report, the chief of External Affairs at the New York State Education Department, Dennis Tompkins, said the department would examine the report. He stressed the importance of an up-to-date sexual education program.

“We’ll carefully review the report and its recommendations,” Tompkins said. “Our goal is to make sure students get accurate, sound health information.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 20 print edition. Veronica Carched is a contributing writer. Email her at cstate@nyunews.com.

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