Students in the Buffalo Public Schools are having sexual intercourse at a rate 20 percent higher than the state average.
A recent survey shows that 6,180 students in the district said they were sexually active, including 1,236 of them who were still in middle school.
In addition, 21.6 percent of middle school students and 30.8 percent of high school students acknowledged that they did not regularly use a condom.
"The schools can't solve this problem. They didn't start it, but they can be very helpful in solving it, and they're coming around to that now," said Christopher J. Spicer, of Planned Parenthood of Western New York.
"But it's going to take other people too - parents and community members."
That's the idea behind four citywide community forums on high-risk sexual behavior among Buffalo Public Schools students.
The first was held Thursday night in South Park High School.
About 30 people attended the forum, sponsored by the Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition and the school district. Organizers hope that subsequent forums will be better attended and that they will be helpful in amassing information that can be used to establish a comprehensive sex-education program for the school district.
"It's more like a town hall-style discussion with the community and a blue-ribbon panel of folks," Spicer said in describing the format for the discussions. The panelists "are here to answer questions and to participate in the discussion from their expert points of view. We're not here to tell anybody what the answers are," he said.
The catalyst for the forums was a 2011 survey on risky behavior by youths that was conducted by the school district and released to the public.
The survey found that 15.8 percent of middle school students and 51.1 percent of high school students in the district acknowledged having had sexual intercourse - and that nearly 1,800 of those students did not regularly use a condom.
Assunta R. Ventresca, director of health-related services for the school district, and Barbara Seals Nevergold, an at-large member on the School Board, were among the panelists participating in Thursday's forum. Both were asked by members in the audience whether the school district had a plan in place to address high-risk sexual behavior among its students.
"I think, in the past, we haven't had a clear direction for teachers, and they're not sure what can be taught all the time," Ventresca said.
"That has not been one of the subjects that we, as a community - not just the schools - have been very comfortable addressing openly and honestly," Nevergold added.
Jacquelyn M. Andula, a registered nurse on the panel, said silence only exacerbates the problem. "If we treat driving a car like we treat sex, we wouldn't wear our seat belts and we would never talk about driving. We couldn't go to the mechanic because something was wrong with our car. What would he think of us?" Andula said.
"My point is that we do have to talk about it and . how to protect yourself when you're having sex, just like you wear a seat belt in you car and you don't drive 100 miles per hour down South Park Avenue," she added.
The three remaining forums are also scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. and are set for Thursday at East High School, 820 Northampton St.; Oct. 4 at Lafayette High School, 370 Lafayette Ave.; and Oct. 11 at Bennett High School, 2885 Main St.