Chicago Public School district (CPS) is the third largest district in the United States. CPS is considering a new sex education program to include sexual orientation and gender identification for the first time. Stephanie Whyte, chief health officer, is scheduled to present this new policy to the Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday. The program is supposed to meet standards on health education and also sexual abstinence as a part of healthy and informed decision-making. This new policy includes President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Healthy Chicago Initiative. President Obama’s plan is to develop and implement effective prevention strategies including sex education and support to encourage people to reduce risky behaviors. Mayor Emanuel’s plan is to improve adolescent health in Chicago by partnering with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with a revised School Wellness Policy to address teen dating violence and teen pregnancy.
This soon to be proposed new sex education program covers grades kindergarten through 12th grade. The curriculum would be age appropriate with kindergarten and first graders discussing topics like anatomy, healthy relationships, and personal safety. Second and third graders, would focus on growth and development. Now, in fourth grade, at about age nine and ten years old, the students would be learning about physical, social, and emotional aspects of puberty, along with causes of HIV transmission! Really? Does that seem age appropriate for a fourth grader? In fifth grade and beyond, age appropriate discussions about human reproduction, healthy decision-making, bullying, and contraception will be included in the sex education program. I am not sure how bullying fits into this sex education unless it seems to tie into the sexual orientation component and the possible bullying students could encounter under those circumstances. The current program, in effect since 2008, requires a set minimum of sex education instruction for all fifth graders and above.
Now, as a mother of school aged children and a teacher in an elementary building, I see the new program as a bit too progressive for the younger elementary school students. Am I too “old school”? Am I keeping it real? I’d like to think I am keeping up with the times. I am not sure I would want my own child being exposed to that curriculum. Can something be saved for the parents to teach their children? As an educator, I am not comfortable teaching sex education to small children.
If we look at the numbers and rationale behind Chicago Public School’s decision, could that sway me? One reason for the new sex education program is the fact that CPS students are sexually active. According to Stephanie Whyte, fifty-two percent of the students polled have had intercourse according to the most recent CPS data. Whyte also states Chicago is an area that ranks among the highest in the country for sexually transmitted diseases.
These high risk factors contribute to the sex education program that CPS wants to propose to provide awareness. With this new policy, CPS would be the largest urban district with a sex education curriculum and required minimum of instructional minutes. With the staggering data CPS has to show, can the problem be pushed aside? Where do schools draw the line on the curriculum we offer and to what grade level do we start sex education?