NEW YORK CITY— Several Council Members, led by Council Member Stephen Levin, introduced a resolution yesterday calling on the Department of Education to implement Mayor Bill de Blasio's Sexual Health Task Force recommendations. Comprehensive sexual health education that is medically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and culturally responsive provides young people with the tools to make informed and empowered decisions about their health and well-being -- including how to build healthy relationships, understand consent and bodily autonomy, and learn to value and respect people’s identities across gender, sexuality, race, and culture.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) mandates that middle and high schools include comprehensive sexual health education as part of health education required by New York State. However, sexual health education is lacking in many schools across the city and there is little enforcement to hold schools accountable. According to the DOE’s own data, only 57% of graduated middle schoolers received a semester of health in the 2015-2016 school year and only 7.6 percent of all health instructors received professional development related to sexual health education within the last two years. Even among students who’ve received a semester of health, many report receiving few to no lessons on sexual health.
The need to improve our schools’ sexual health education is urgent. Young people in New York City face some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence nationwide, LGBTQ students are more likely to be bullied and face depression compared to their heterosexual, cisgender peers, and half of all new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States are contracted by young people 15- to 24-years-old.
In 2017, The Council enacted legislation, sponsored by Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, to address these ongoing issues and create a task force to more thoroughly examine the current state of sexual health education in New York City. The Mayor’s Sexual Health Education Task Force released a report in July 2018 with its findings and issued several recommendations for improvements in New York City public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. The report focused on four areas: improving school culture around sexual wellness and inclusivity, strengthening teacher training and support, improving sexual health education curriculum and content K-12, and significantly improving accountability and reporting.
The Department of Education has already shown its commitment to the values and recommendations of the Task Force through the launch and investment of $24 million dollars in Health Ed Works. The Council applauds the gains made by the administration to support New York City students, and also recognizes there is more work needed to provide all young people with the inclusive and empowering health education they deserve. Resolution 716 calls on the DOE to implement all recommendations in the Task Force’s report and expand sexual health education to all grades in schools citywide. The resolution will be heard at the upcoming December 16th Education Committee hearing.
"Sex ed works. It teaches young people critical lessons in social and emotional learning and skills-building, and provides students with the tools they need to lead healthy and informed lives. I applaud the Department of Education for their investment in Health Ed Works, and encourage the administration to take additional steps, so that all students have access to sexual health education that is inclusive, accurate, and comprehensive." -Council Member Stephen Levin (Chair, Committee on General Welfare)
“The research is clear, showing that culturally sensitive sexuality education can positively impact public health outcomes and the physical and mental wellbeing of students. I join my colleague Council Member Levin and the many students, parents, educators and advocates who recognize the imperative need for our schools to implement the recommendations made by the Sexual Health Education Task Force and ensure that across the board, our students are receiving the comprehensive, equitable sexual health education they deserve.” - Council Member Mark Treyger (Chair, Committee on Education)
“We must empower our students to make informed choices by standardizing sexual health education in our classrooms and ensuring that our curriculum is comprehensive; age-appropriate; compliant with state law; reflective of our student body; and taught by qualified and trained educators,” said Council Majority Leader, Laurie Cumbo.“Sexuality is much more than sexual intercourse. It is about developing a healthy self-image, your identity, gender role, learning how to express yourself and your boundaries, and the Department of Education must do everything it can to ensure our youth are provided with all the tools they need to thrive.”
"The Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City is proud to support Resolution 716, calling on Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education to implement the recommendations of the Sexual Health Task force. Sex education plays a vital role in preventing gender violence, decreasing the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, improving children's health and body image, and eradicating bullying and harassment--but the education NYC students currently receive is woefully inadequate. New York City students deserve quality sex education from Kindergarten through 12th grade. The Task Force's recommendations outline concrete steps the city must take to ensure students get the education they need and deserve. It is urgent that the Mayor and Department of Education implement these recommendations," said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, policy co-chair of the Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City.
"We are proud to offer our full support of Council Member Levin’s resolution calling on the NYC Department of Education to adopt all of the policy recommendations set forth by the Mayor’s Sexual Health Education Taskforce. The need to provide the 1.1 million students in New York City public schools with medical accurate, developmentally appropriate, culturally sensitive comprehensive sexuality education in all grade levels is long overdue. Comprehensive sexuality education is the most effective way to ensure that young people have all the information they need to make informed and self-determined decisions about their bodies and their lives. Now more than ever, we need to equip young people with the tools and skills to understand consent, boundaries, healthy relationships and communications, gender based violence, gender identity, expression, sexuality and so much more. In a moment when the realities of sexual harassment, child sexual abuse and gender based violence have been thrust into our consciousness, the onus is on the New York City Department of Education to implement comprehensive sex education as one way to prevent violence and create safer learning environments," said Joanne Smith Founder & CEO of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE)
“It’s essential that we equip youth with comprehensive, compassionate sexuality education so they can make the best decisions for themselves,” said Laura McQuade, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of New York City. “Last year, NYC’s Sexual Health Education Task Force released recommendations to prioritize sexuality education and inclusivity in all schools, expand sexuality education to elementary schools, and improve accountability. PPNYC stands by these recommendations and has long advocated for age-appropriate K-12 sexuality education. We applaud Council Member Levin for continuing to fight for implementation of these recommendations and urge lawmakers to prioritize sexuality education.”
“Comprehensive sexuality education is crucial to equip young people with the tools and information they need to make the best decisions for their lives and health. When the Mayor’s Sexual Health Education Taskforce published its findings last year, we at NIRH were heartened that it recommended so many tangible steps towards truly comprehensive K-12 sexuality education for all students in New York. NIRH stands with the Council members behind this resolution, calling on the Department of Education to adopt the Taskforce’s recommendations.” — Andrea Miller, President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health
"Comprehensive sex ed is critical to reducing gender-based harassment and violence, improving educational outcomes and ensuring healthier communities,” said Katharine Bodde, Senior Policy Counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The NYCLU applauds the New York City Council for recognizing that every young person in our public school system deserves to learn the skills and knowledge they need for a healthy future and healthy relationships."