School officials need to tread carefully in establishing a curriculum for comprehensive sex education in the Buffalo Public Schools, said a parent attending the last of four community forums Thursday night on sex among students in the district.
Alandra Gethers noted that while some parents avoid talking to their children about sex, other parents do, and it may not be from the same perspective that school officials might pursue.
“We cannot negate the fact or override parents that are [already] actively involved in their children’s lives,” Gethers said during the forum, held in Bennett High School.
The forum, sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Western New York and a coalition of other health services agencies, was held in response to a Youth Risk Behaviors Survey conducted by the school district last year.
The survey found that the incidence of youngsters having sexual intercourse was 20 percent higher than the state average.
A panel of eight health professionals and community leaders, including Bennett High School Principal Carlos Alvarez and at-large School Board member Barbara Seals-Nevergold, took part in the forum, which moderator Chris Spicer of Planned Parenthood said was intended to spur a conversation about appropriate community responses to youth sex, sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy.
“From these conversations, what we are really getting is a sense of what is the tone of the community,” Spicer said after Thursday night’s forum. “What does the community want now, given this information?
“Last year at this time, without that information, people might have been more inclined to say, ‘Leave the schools out of it. It’s a parent-child thing. It’s a private family issue.’ ”
However, Spicer noted, results of the survey show that youth sex is a public health issue.
Dan Cross-Viola, coordinator of the Stages of Life Program for Native American Community Services and one of the Thursday night panelists, said his agency and others are working to provide parents with the skills to talk to their children about sex. The aim, Cross-Viola said, is “to help [parents] be better advocates for their own children [and] to help be better teachers of their own children, as well.”
Gethers expressed concern that the religious values of some parents might be usurped in the effort to educate through imposition of a comprehensive sex education program in the public schools.
Michael Wright of Leaving Our Legacy, a youth program aimed at addressing sex education and other pressing community issues, also was a panelist at the forum. He said his mother was religious and an involved parent.
“As a parent, she made sure I did all my school work … but when it came down to sex, all she would tell me is, ‘Don’t do it,’ ” said Wright.
David L. Woods, a Masten District resident and grandparent, said he found Thursday’s forum, which was attended by about 60 people, informative.
“I feel that sex education should be taught not only at home,” Wood said, “but in school and other community centers.”
Forum organizers hope the survey and community forums help to establish the basis of a comprehensive district sex education program.