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DC Youth Need Character-Based Sex Education, Not More Condoms

     District of Columbia Public Schools first released draft Health Learning Standards on July 2, 2007.

There is much that is good about the standards.  The majority of the material is appropriate in terms of age and learning standards.  However, there are serious flaws in the materials.  The standards lack an overarching directive approach that seeks the best for our youth by encouraging them to abstain from sex before marriage.  Youth should be asked, encouraged and supported to live up to the highest standards, not expected to fall to the lowest ones. 

     According to the 2005 YRBSS, 52% of District of Columbia high school youth have never had sexual intercourse, a 16 percent increase in abstaining youth in just two years! Furthermore, 76% of District of Columbia middle school students have never had sexual intercourse, a 9 percent increase in abstaining youth in just two years.  Shouldn’t we encourage this positive trend, instead of rushing to provide ever more condoms (like the 1,000,000 condoms campaign) to any one who wants one. 

    Considering that the District of Columbia government has been, and continues to emphasize distributing condoms as the primary method of HIV prevention, and that DC has one of the highest rates of HIV infection of any similar sized city in the nation, it hardly makes sense to continue to emphasize more of the same.

     Also, there seems to be a glaring lack of input form students and parents about what the health standards should and should not include.  Since these are those primarily effected by these standards, this is totally unacceptable.  The promotion of contraception to 7th grade students, and the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity beginning in 6th grade is completely unacceptable to the great majority of parents and students.  

     My experience as the Executive Director and co-founder of ULTRA Teen Choice is that parents, teachers, and students overwhelmingly want sex education to be directive and to provide an expected standard of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage.  Additionally, in ten years of working with youth in grades five to twelve, I have never had any parents that we were serving request that we provide information on alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality.

     Yet, the draft standards prominently feature this information for 6th and 8th grade students.  This appears to be driven by an agenda that seeks to create acceptance of unhealthy lifestyles on an equal footing with healthy ones.  Rather, we need a bold new approach with health standards that encourage youth to live up to the highest, character based standard.   Furthermore, DCPS should encourage and fund programs that support youth who are striving to achieve these high standards.

     There is a concerted effort by those who support the introduction of the discussion of contraception and sexual orientation in middle school to prevent programs that provide directive, character based education from operating in DC public schools.  One parent prodded the Principal of Stuart-Hobson Middle School to invite the City Year program to come to Stuart-Hobson.  City Year is a so called comprehensive sex educating program, that includes discussion of contraception methods for 7th and 8th grade youth.  Now the same parent wants the ULTRA Teen Choice program to be excluded.  The parents opposing the ULTRA Teen Choice program are not racially representative of the school, which has an 87% black population.   Furthermore, many of them do not even have children at Stuart-Hobson, since the Local School Restructuring Team (LSRT) is for all of the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools which serve children as young as age three.

      Here are six draft standards that need to be deleted or modified:

6th grade: 

      Sexuality, Reproduction, and Health 6.1.6 Explain that people, regardless of biological sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and culture, have sexual feeling and the need for love, affection and physical intimacy.

Change this to:

6.1.5 Explain that people have sexual feelings and the need for love, and that it is normal to have these feelings, but that sex should occur only within marriage.

7th grade

Sexuality, Reproduction, and Health

7.1.7 Analyze the social, cultural, religious, and legal factors that influence the choice and use of contraception; and discuss the importance of consistent and effective contraceptive use.

The expected standard for middle school youth is abstinence.  Parents, not DCPS, should decide whether consistent and effective use of contraception is the preferred method of prevention for their children..  This standard should be deleted entirely.

8th Grade

Sexuality, Reproduction, and Health

8/1.5 Define sexual orientation, using correct terminology, and explain that as people grow and develop, they may begin to feel romantically and or sexually attracted to people of a different gender and/or to people of the same gender

This discussion is wholly inappropriate for a  public school setting.  Parents should be the ones to decide to introduce these topics, not DCPS.  This standard should be deleted entirely.

8.1.6 Compare and contrast the theories about what determines sexual orientation  including genetics; prenatal, social, and cultural influences; psychosocial factors; and a combination of all of these.

Again, this is absolutely inappropriate for public school students.  Scientific evidence does not provide any consensus at all on this topic, and the most important factor for many people, which is their religious convictions, should not be included in a public school environment.  The decision to discuss or not discuss this  topic should be left solely to parents.  This standard should be deleted entirely.

9th grade

Human Growth and Development

9.1.5 Analyze trends in teen pregnancy rates, teen births, contraceptive practices and the availability of abortion

This standard needs to be changed to:

9.1.5 Analyze trends in teen pregnancy rates, teen births, plus YRBSS data showing that the majority of high school students have never had sexual intercourse.  Discuss why abstinence from all sexual activity outside of marriage is the only 100% sure way to prevent STIs, pregnancy, and social and emotional consequences of sexual relationships.

You can submit comments on these standards to Beverley Wheeler at  Beverley.wheeler@dc.gov and to your school board representative.  A hearing will be held on November 28th  at 441 4th St. NW in the Old Council Chambers beginning at 5:30 p.m.  You can sign up to testify by calling Beverley Wheeler at 202-741-0884.. 

Contact the author:  Richard Urban rurban@ultrateenchoice.org;  www.ultrateenchoice.org

You can view all of the proposed health standards at http://newsroom.dc.gov/show.aspx/agency/seo/section/2/release/12070