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Sex education curriculum should be parents' choice says assemblyman

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 10/13/2011, 11:44 a.m.

The Department of Education (DOE) plans to offer sex education in public school classrooms starting in 2012. But former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin and the group NYC Parent's Choice Coalition are challenging this one-size-fits-all measure in favor of a plan that also offers an abstinence-based curriculum.

"We think parents should have a choice. There are more than 20 abstinence-based programs for parents to choose from-those families who wish to have that option should be able to choose," Benjamin said.

"There's an organizations called the National Abstinence Association out of Washington. Every year, they collect all of the studies that have been done on abstinence education programs. The latest version shows 22 studies published or reported to the government. There has been a rigorous review that shows them to be effective in delaying sexual activity among teens.

"Is there a fear that the stance that the city is taking with this upcoming curriculum will increase sexual activity among kids? Is this opposition against the planned program or that there is not another choice?" he asked.

"We represent a relatively broad coalition of people with varying views on this issue. Some think that the program will be counterproductive and others think it's fine, but there should be something else. Our position is that there are programs that are equally effective based on rigorous evaluations and they should be allowed as well. The measure should be effectiveness, not just from a political or ideological viewpoint. If we want to have effective results, we should allow multiple programs that are in concert with the values of parents," Benjamin said.

Benjamin is urging the DOE to consider alternatives to the planned program and encouraging parents to demand more choices.

"The first thing is to have meeting with the chancellor. The second step is to encourage parents to contact the chancellor," Greg Pfundstein of NYC Parents Choice told the AmNews. "The coalition is interfaith and is composed of Black, Latino, Asian and white parents. I'm working on developing a training program and a curriculum to help parents understand what we're asking for," Pfundstein said.

In addition to meeting with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the group is seeking meetings with city and state representatives.

"I have been reaching out to members of the clergy and parent groups that I'm familiar with to make them aware of the issue and help train them to understand what their rights are. Not only can they opt their child out of the common demonstration class, they have a right to seek an alternative comprehensive program that Chancellor Walcott will be offering this coming January," Benjamin said.

"The first thing is to talk to the principal and make them aware of what they're looking for. Under federal law, they have the right to inspect any curriculum. If they are not sure, they can go to the principal's office and ask to see the curriculum so they can inform themselves and make a decision about it.

"The current issue of Essence magazine features a survey of Black adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21," he continued. "They found that, by and large, teens want their parents involved in deciding on sexual relationships, particularly on abstinence and encouraging them to remain abstinent and discuss ways of resisting pressure to have sex at an early age. The teens themselves want their parents involved. We want the school to have a curriculum that reflects what they're getting at home."

"It doesn't matter where you stand on this issue. It's critically important that parents talk to their children about this. The rates of teen pregnancy, though they have been coming down, are still high, and the rates of infections and STDs are still high. Whatever your values are, whether or not you think your kid should or should not be having sexual relations, they should or should not be using condoms to prevent conception-it's critical that parents talk to their kids about these issues," Pfundstein concluded.

To learn more about the planned sex education curriculum for public schools and alternative abstinence curriculums, visit www.NYCParentchoice.org.