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Sex ed to cover birth control

Abstinence will be city classes' focus

By David Mendell, The Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2006

Chicago Public Schools will require that students in the 6th grade and beyond take a sex education course next year that covers birth control.

Adolescent health advocates and a group of high school students who have fought for such a policy hailed Wednesday's action by the Chicago Board of Education as a major step forward in children's health.

"It's a huge victory," said Jonathan Stacks, campaign manager for the advocacy group Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education.

The new sex education course has yet to be devised, but the new policy calls for the curriculum to emphasize abstinence as the "expected norm" to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy and HIV transmission.

But it also will include instruction on contraception--a requirement that upset advocates of abstinence-only sex education teaching.

Students may opt out of the course if their parents object to having their children in the classes.

"I know there is a lot of negative talk about abstinence, but contrary to the rumors you have heard, abstinence is a very positive message," Julie Olson, a registered nurse and member of the Illinois Abstinence Coalition, told the board.

Olson said abstinence-only programs have been effective in preventing teen pregnancy and have resonated with many teens. She said many young people report that hearing such a message counterbalances images of sex found in the media and peer pressure to become sexually active.

Student activists said too many schools have glossed over sex education in health class or provided inaccurate information.

In August and December, about 50 students rallied outside the district's administration building in the Loop and eventually held discussions with school district administrators in hopes of enacting a new policy.

"We believed that the entire school system needed to make a commitment to providing lifesaving information to Chicago schools, so we took our cause to the top," said Mayadet Patittucci, a senior at Curie Metropolitan High School.

The new program, called Family Life and Comprehensive Sexual Health Education, will be designed by a curriculum committee and provide "age-appropriate and medically accurate information concerning the emotional, psychological, physiological, hygienic and social responsibility aspects of family life."

The courses will be taught in Grades 6 through 12 and include instruction on how to prevent pregnancy through abstinence and contraception, as well as the emotional and psychological consequences of premarital sex and pregnancy. Currently sex education is inconsistently taught throughout the district, with individual schools setting the perimeters.

It also will include instruction involving financial responsibility owed to children born in and out of wedlock, laws relating to sexual relations with children under the age of 18, appropriate action in response to sexual harassment and responsible parenting.

The board adopted the policy in response to data showing that half of all city public high school students are sexually active and that 6,000 infants were born to teen parents in Chicago in 2003.

In addition, a survey commissioned by Planned Parenthood and the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health found that teachers averaged just 12 hours of sex education per school year and about 15 percent of sex education instruction in Illinois schools did not teach the basics of conception, pregnancy and childbirth.

Board President Michael Scott said the policy was long overdue in light of the statistics.

He told Olson that her point of view would be represented as administrators write the final policy and curriculum, but he added that "the policies will be realistic based on [teen] practices."

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