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NYC council orders review of city schools’ sex-ed curriculum

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) speaks at City Hall in Manhattan on May 10, 2017, before the chamber passes her bill requiring a blue-ribbon panel to reexamine the sex-ed curriculum in the public schools. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

The New York City Council on Wednesday passed legislation ordering a fresh look at the public schools’ sex-ed curriculum, and Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a council bill requiring landlords to publicize buildings’ bedbug infestations.

Before the council meeting, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called on the embattled commissioner of the city’s troubled jails, Joseph Ponte, to resign, breaking with ally de Blasio.

“I do believe that Commissioner Ponte should step down,” Mark-Viverito said at her regular City Hall news conference, adding that the agency has been “compromised” under his leadership.

The sex-ed bill creates a task force to scrutinize how city schools teach sex-ed and adds a requirement for panelists to consider issues specific to students who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and gender nonconforming.”

The bill passed unanimously, 49-0.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn), a prime sponsor of the bill, said she wants the curriculum to tackle issues like incest, sexual molestation, and the wide spectrum of human sexuality.

“I kind of want to see it move into an area of healthy relationships and reproductive health, versus simply the birds and the bees and how it actually happens,” she said.

Also Wednesday, the council greenlighted legislation requiring used car dealers to disclose details about a vehicle’s recall history, regulating commercial bicyclists, studying the feasibility of allowing pedestrians to cross in any direction while vehicle traffic is stopped, and extending a prior legal limit on the conversion of hotels into non-hotel use — a bill backed by the city’s hotel worker labor union.

The bedbug bill — among 14 de Blasio signed — requires landlords to disclose building infestations and provide lease-signers a bedbug history.

Mark-Viverito’s call for Ponte to quit came after an investigation last month by the city’s anti-graft watchdog agency found that he had been out of town for a quarter of 2016 as violence and corruption plagued the Rikers Island jail complex.

The investigation also found that Ponte, in violation of city ethics rules, drove his city-issued car 18,500 miles on trips to and from coastal Maine and billed taxpayers for gas and tolls.

The same investigators have accused Ponte’s deputy in charge of internal probes of spying on the watchdog agency’s investigators and continuing the practice when ordered to stop.

The mayor has defended Ponte while Mark-Viverito said he should resign because of the car issue and “the fact that he’s out of town during critical moments in time, when we are really dealing with a very serious issue.”

The U.S. Justice Department has said the island jail suffers from a “deep-seated culture of violence.”

Ponte’s office referred an inquiry to the mayor’s office, whose spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas wrote by email: “We respect Speaker Mark-Viverito’s view.”

Mark-Viverito also lamented thay Ponte hasn’t read a blue-ribbon panel’s report overseen by the state’s former chief judge and released five weeks ago about how to close Rikers Island.

“The fact that it hasn’t been read is disappointing,” she said.

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