A recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union has criticized the quality of the sexual education curriculum used by districts all over the state of New York. Some of the curriculum materials — which the group characterized as “inaccurate, incomplete and biased” — didn’t cover topics such as condom use and safe sex, and fewer than half provided information on sexual orientation.
The group looked over course plans from 82 districts covering the 2009-10 and the 2010-11 academic years. The information was all obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. The report, titled “Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students,” particularly takes issue with the fact that one of the commonly-used sex-ed textbooks makes no mention of any but the traditional definition of marriage.
Melissa Goodman, NYCLU’s Senior Litigation and Policy Counsel said “Ignoring or stigmatizing same-sex relationships in sex-ed instruction puts LGBTQ students at risk” Adding, “it creates an unwelcoming and intimidating environment for young people who often already face hostility at school.
Another part of the report pointed out that a test question on sex-ed curriculum used by Sewanhaka School District on Long Island referred to sexual orientation as “sexual preference,” thereby reinforcing the idea that homosexuality is a choice. Another Long Island community, Bay Shore, also drew the attention of the NYCLU authors who said that by limiting the definition of intercourse to heterosexual sex, they were ignoring the sexual education needs of non-heterosexual students in their district.
Although there were several similar problems with the curricula examined by the NYCLU, the main failing of the sexual education courses as taught by the New York school districts was described as the massive amount of misinformation and incomplete information posing as medical fact. Two-thirds of the materials didn’t mention or provide a depiction of female genitalia as part of their lesson on human sexuality. In one particularly egregious example, a textbook in one district included a definition of vagina as a “sperm deposit.”
Moral overtones and shame-based messages regarding sexuality, abstinence, pregnancy and teen parenting strongly pervade instructional materials in all districts – and textbooks in wide use across New York State. These materials, unlike medically-accurate, opinion-neutral information, risk alienating students from otherwise valuable prevention lessons.
Quite a few of the lesson plans examined failed to provide what should be the NYCLU says is the main function of a sexual education class: a survey of the full range of birth control and safe sex options available to students as well as providing information on how they may confidentially access counseling and medical resources.