Report: Sex ed in NY schools inadequate

Most school districts surveyed on Long Island and Most school districts surveyed on Long Island and upstate failed to provide adequate sex education to teenage students, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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Most school districts surveyed on Long Island and upstate failed to provide adequate sex education to teenage students, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The report, "Birds, Bees and Bias," found that only about a third of districts surveyed taught students how to use condoms in preventing pregnancy and disease. More than half provided no instruction on sexual orientation, and nearly two-thirds excluded any mention or depiction of female external genitalia.

"It's shocking what passes for sex ed in some New York classrooms," said Johanna Miller, the report's co-author and assistant advocacy director for the NYCLU.

The report analyzed sex-education textbooks and other materials used in 82 districts statewide, including 16 on the Island. Materials were used during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Districts contacted enrolled about half the state's entire enrollment outside New York City.

Survey sponsors reported that the most commonly used sex-education textbooks mentioned only abstinence as a means of preventing pregnancy -- evidently reflecting federal school funding that is focused on abstinence.

Some Island educators find this approach inadequate.

"We teach abstinence first, of course," said John R. Williams, superintendent of Amityville schools. "But we're also realists, and we know kids are going to experiment."

Williams added that health classes at the district's high school include demonstrations of proper condom placement on models of male organs.

Cynthia Proscia, a health-education professor at Adelphi University, said she has found in informal surveys of Island schools that about half do not teach human sexuality at the middle-school level -- the age when sexual experimentation begins.

"Are schools doing enough? Absolutely not," Proscia said.

The NYCLU report specifically criticizes classroom materials used in Bay Shore and Sewanhaka.

In the case of Sewanhaka, the report cited a test question that used the phrase "sexual preference" in describing heterosexual and homosexual behavior. NYCLU staffers contended that such phrases suggest, incorrectly, that homosexuality is a voluntary preference rather than an orientation based largely on genetic factors.

Ralph Ferrie, in his second year as Sewanhaka's superintendent, said his district was reviewing curriculum materials and "will make the appropriate corrections."

In the case of Bay Shore, the report found that definitions of sexual intercourse referred only to heterosexual sex -- in effect, excluding non-heterosexual students from consideration.

Sonia Bonilla, a secretary in Bay Shore's communications department, did not respond to a request for comment.

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