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New York State education has failed to teach students correctly about the birds and the bees.
The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed sex education materials used in 82 public school districts. The results demonstrate that the lack of "binding statewide sex-ed standards is compromising the health and well-being of our young people."
The report, "Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York's Students" is chilling. Not to be naive about the preoccupation on sex by adolescents, the absence of a full discourse on the subject and, in some cases, inaccuracies and bias, is stunning in 2012.
New York teen pregnancy is among the highest in the nation, which leads to a disproportionate number of high school dropouts and other consequences, including a high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV infections. And then there is the violence, abuse and sexual assault teens encounter.
Something has to change.
State health instruction guidelines published in 2005 address sexuality and sexual health, according to the report, but are not binding on school districts nor do they recommend specific curricula.
National standards issued just this year set a higher bar but lack teeth and are not binding on New York school districts or individual schools. So, what to teach is up to individual school districts, school leaders and teachers. The result puts students at high risk of mis-education that ultimately punishes students and the public.
Besides moral overtones and shame-based messages regarding sexuality, abstinence, pregnancy and teen parenting that exist in some districts, many students do not learn the full range of methods for preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
This is a statewide problem but at least the Buffalo Public School system is attempting to address its own startling statistics. Students in the district are having sexual intercourse at a rate 20 percent higher than the state average, according to the Buffalo Public Schools 2011 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey.
About half of all traditional city students report not having learned about HIV/AIDS in school; a statistic made more frightening given the large percentage who report not using condoms.
Today's youth must be disabused of the notion that there is a pill to solve every problem. They have to understand the lifelong consequences of bad decisions. Those lessons start at home, of course, but must be reinforced at school with accurate and inclusive information.
And that is why it is important that community members show up for a series of forums in high school auditoriums this fall put together by Planned Parenthood of Western New York working with the Buffalo Public Schools, the Buffalo Community Council on Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, the Erie County Department of Health and other community partners.
As the NYCLU suggested, the State Education Department should amend the commissioner's regulations on health education to require comprehensive sexuality education in the public schools. Otherwise, it should at least set rigorous learning standards for voluntary sex-education curricula.
School is the last place students should draw inaccurate, incomplete or biased information.