The quality of sex education in schools around New York state took plenty of criticism earlier this year, but New York City continues to be aggressive on addressing the sexual health of their students. While attempting to solve the problem of teen pregnancy in its schools – more than 7,000 students become pregnant before the age of 17 every year – last year the city launched a pilot program providing birth control to students as young as 14 on request. A year later, those who masterminded the program are so pleased with the results that they are looking to expand it to more schools immediately.
According to Michele Handelman, who is a nurse-midwife and a mother of two high-schoolers, nothing that the Department of Education is doing is against the law. In New York, teens have a right to both birth control and abortion without parental notification. Handelman believes that everyone is best served by giving teens access to free, confidential and reliable care, including birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
The program gives parents an opportunity to to opt their children out, and while the limited size of the initial pilot kept parental concerns to a minimum, the planned expansion now has more of them speaking up against it. One such parent is Mona Davids, who is not only a parent of a NYC student, but the head of the New York City Parents Union. Although she welcomes the opt-out provision, she doesn't appreciate the fact that many parents aren't notified when the program comes to their children's school. She sees is as an attempt by the government to do an end-run around parental rights. Why do the school staff and administrators feel it is ok to give children hormonal contraception without first informing, or getting permission from, the parents, she asks, especially in light of the fact that giving as much as an aspirin typically requires agreement from a parent?
"We are tackling absence before it causes long-term disadvantage. Powers to fine parents of children who do not attend school are just one of the ways we are emphasizing the importance of attendance."
Davids isn't swayed. She has already indicated that NYCPU is planning to file suit to make parental consent mandatory for participation in the birth control program. Meanwhile, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg is really serious about bringing down the rates of teen pregnancy in the city, she has a few ideas.
"If Mayor Bloomberg truly cares about our children and stopping teenage pregnancy, he would invest in our schools," Davids added. "He would put the money back into those school budgets, so that they could have after-school programs, extra-curricular activities."