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Experts Strongly Criticize New York City Sex Ed Program
By CLAUDIA McDONNELL

The sex education program that New York City has mandated for middle and high school students contains erroneous information, poses a danger to children and usurps the rights of parents, speakers said at a press conference Aug. 16. They called on parents to advocate on their children’s behalf and fight to prevent the program from being used.

They also insisted that students be taught abstinence as the best way to avoid pregnancy and remain healthy.

Speakers included Edward Mechmann, assistant director of the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office.

“Parents are the fundamental teachers of their children—not the city government—and their religious and moral values, and the lessons they teach at home, should not be contradicted or interfered with by the government,” Mechmann said. “This mandate is utterly disrespectful of those rights.”

The new program is part of an effort by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among young people, especially black and Hispanic teens, who have significantly higher rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than other teens. It promotes so-called safe-sex practices, including the use of condoms, while misrepresenting abstinence and failing to promote it adequately, speakers said.

The press conference took place on the steps of City Hall. It was sponsored by the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a not-for-profit organization in New York City that supports alternatives to abortion, and the World Youth Alliance, an international coalition of young people that promotes respect for the dignity of the person. Participating were representatives of more than a dozen organizations that work with young people.

Speakers in addition to Mechmann were Dr. Nanci Coppola, Dr. Miriam Grossman, and the Rev. Michel J. Faulkner. Dr. Coppola is executive director of Program Reach and Healthy Respect, youth programs that promote abstinence. Dr. Grossman is a medical doctor and author who speaks internationally on youth and sexual education. Rev. Faulkner has done extensive youth work and is pastor of New Horizon Church of New York in Harlem.

“The goal of the proposed New York City curriculum is not to empower teens not to have sex,” Dr. Coppola said. “It is to make sure that they do not have ‘unprotected sex.’ Shouldn’t we be teaching the truth that any teen sex is high-risk?”

She also said, “Studies have shown that eight out of 10 teens say that it would be much easier for them to delay sexual activity and avoid pregnancy if they could simply have open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents.

“And yet the New York City schools are seeking to usurp that parental authority,” Dr. Coppola said. She called for “full disclosure” of the contents of the sex education program so that parents can become effective advocates for their children.

Dr. Grossman said that the program contains “serious flaws” and “will leave students confused, misinformed and vulnerable.” She advised parents to reject it.

“The abstinence message is weak to nonexistent,” she said. She added, “Students are taught, in fact, that sexuality is a wonderful and natural part of adolescence, that it can be a part of their lives right now, and that only they—the students—know when they are ready to begin being sexually active.”

Dr. Grossman and Dr. Coppola noted that the city and the schools never convey mixed messages about cigarettes or drug use; students are taught to abstain.

“ ‘Get real, use clean needles’ would be a totally unacceptable campaign for our kids to act responsibly when it comes to heroin use,” Dr. Coppola said. “So when it comes to sex, the rules should not change. All students deserve to receive information that would give them the best advantage for a life of health and well-being.” She cautioned against giving in to “the bigotry of low expectations.”

Rev. Faulkner stressed that abstinence has no failure rate.

“Abstinence works 100 percent of the time,” he said. He noted that he previously was a youth pastor and college dean, and that young people told him they were under tremendous pressure to become sexually active. If they could have “frank discussions” about sex, he said, “they would choose abstinence.”

“There is no ‘safe sex,’ ” Rev. Faulkner said. “The safest sex a person can have is abstinence before marriage and monogamy after marriage.”

Mechmann noted that in the early 1990s, the city attempted to mandate sex education and condom distribution in public schools. “Parents across the city defended their right to direct the education of their children,” he said. “It was successful because parents had ways to make their voices heard.” Today, he continued, parents have no forum: there are no district school boards, no public hearings, no citywide school board and “no requirement that regulations be open to public review and comment.”

Parents can have their children “opt out” of the program, but “how many parents will be told that they have that right?” Mechmann asked.

He remarked that New York state courts have ruled that condoms may not be distributed in schools without parental consent or opt-out. But he said that a few years ago he saw a dish of condoms in a middle-school restroom in Manhattan.

“That’s against the law,” he said.

Mechmann called the sex education plan “a very deeply misguided decision that shows no respect for parents or students.”

“It says to students, ‘We don’t believe that you can make right decisions. We don’t believe that you, together with your parents, can form good, healthy moral values,’ ” he said. “Parents need to stand up, make their rights known, and...try to have this decision reversed.”

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