August 13, 2011
Sex Education Ruling Elicits Praise, Scorn
Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's decision to reintroduce a sex-education class requirement into the nation's largest public school system, declaring on Friday that parents have failed to teach their children about the facts of life.
During his weekly radio show, a caller questioned why the mayor won't just let parents educate their children about sex, and Mr. Bloomberg replied: "You just can't say, 'Well, the parents should do it,' because the parents aren't doing it. The evidence is there."
The mayor added: "You have a lot of young men who father kids and, then, don't realize it's their responsibility for the next 20 years....Young kids are getting into their fecund years, so, [education is] certainly important. You can argue for the elderly, maybe, you don't need it. But you certainly need it for this group."
Mr. Bloomberg's comments on the new policy were his first since schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a letter to principals on Tuesday night outlining the city's plans to require all middle- and high-school students to take sex-education classes during one semester. The policy is slated to begin during the second half of the upcoming school year.
The state currently requires a one-semester, daily health-education course in both middle and high school, but doesn't mandate sex education. Many city schools have, on their own, added sex education to the curriculum, but now the city is requiring that they do so.
For middle-school students, whose ages range from 10 to 13, there will be a verbal lesson on how to use a condom. High-school students, whose ages range from 13 to 17, will also get a verbal lesson on how to use a condom, and they will also be able to go to the health resource room, where condoms are distributed, for a demonstration.
As with the city's HIV/AIDS curriculum, parents will have the power to opt out of specific lessons involving birth control.
The exact specifics of the curriculum are still being hammered out.
"We'll be communicating to schools in the fall about what areas must be covered," an education department official said on Friday.
The new policy and the mayor's comments during his radio show elicited a mix of praise and criticism from parents, civic leaders and religious groups.
Fran Gaudio, 45 years old, said parents can't do it all, adding that it's important to have lessons coming from other authority figures. She said she wants her 12-year-old son to learn about sex at Kingsborough Secondary School, where he will soon be starting seventh grade.
"You can't be with your child 24/7, so they have to make good choices," she said. "Sometimes children don't want to speak to their parents about it."
Gloria Nunez-Pacheco, a 41-year-old mother of three in the Bronx, said she firmly believes it's the parents' place to teach their children about sex because they know their children better than anyone. She specifically criticized the mayor for suggesting parents have failed to do their job.
"Hasn't the school system failed all our kids here in New York?" she retorted, when told about the mayor's remarks. "They already have failed our kids in academics; you think they're going to do a good job teaching them about sex? I don't think so. He just put his foot in his mouth."
Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York, said he's heard mostly supportive comments from his members, who are for the most part Latin-American.
"It feels shocking and irresponsible to not provide [students] with information," he said. "The families we work with are supportive."
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York opposed the mandate, saying that telling children the consequences of having sex alongside handing out condoms or explaining their use would be delivering "mixed messages." The church also said it objected to the midsummer announcement of the new policy without parental or community input.
"What we're really saying to them through this is, 'Look, we know you can't really control yourselves, so here's how to use a condom,'" spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. "'Well, I guess it's OK, as long as I use a condom.' And that's a terrible message."
In his letter to principals, Mr. Walcott said he believes the public schools must play an important role in educating children about sex and what could happen if they engage in risky behavior. "I strongly believe this policy is overdue for our school system," he said.
Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat, and Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, both of whom have come out in opposition to the proposal, said they believe the school system should focus on reading and math, rather than the birds and the bees.
"The mayor has his priorities wrong," Mr. Long said. "It's part of the nanny-state mentality that he has that the government and not parents can, in fact, do what has to be done for their children."
Mr. Bloomberg said he hopes the new lessons will teach the city's youth that sex comes with "real-world consequences that you're going to have to live with."
"Maybe you want to think long and hard before you father a child, or have a child," he said.
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