sex and the city

Church policy could complicate city's new sex ed requirements

Public schools located in former Catholic school buildings will have to find another place to teach newly required sex education.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott surprised principals last night with the news that sex education will be mandatory in middle and high schools starting this year—a decision the New York Civil Liberties Union called “a great step forward for students’ health.”

For schools that operate in space leased from the Archdiocese of New York, the new requirement could induce a scheduling headache. A Department of Education spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, confirmed that those schools would have to conduct the sex education lessons off-site in accordance with the archdiocese’s longstanding policy prohibiting sex education in space that it owns.

As Catholic schools have lost students in recent years, the archdiocese has closed dozens of schools, including 27 this year. The city has then rented some of those buildings to relieve its own space crunch. Last year, when the city decided to rent the former Saint Michael’s Academy to house the Clinton School for Artists and Writers, it noted that students would have to return to the school’s previous site for sex education.

Fran Davies, education spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said today that church officials were still researching the issue.

Most public schools housed in rented former Catholic school space are elementary schools, which are not affected by the new requirement. But at least a few middle and high schools, like West Brooklyn Community High School and El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Williamsburg, will have to make other plans if they haven’t already.

The city already has solutions for some of those schools, Morgan said. At John Adams High School in Queens, for example, ninth-graders are taught in an annex leased from the archdiocese. Those students would move into the school’s main building for sex education lessons, or wait until 10th grade to take the required health class, Morgan said. Walcott’s announcement said that schools could fulfill the new requirement within the semester-long health classes that are already required in middle and high schools.

But it remains unclear where students in archdiocese-owned buildings without a secondary facility will go for the sex education component of those classes.

The full message that Walcott sent to principals last night is below.

Dear Colleagues,

Last week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg unveiled the City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), a comprehensive, three-year action plan to confront racial and ethnic disparities among young men in New York City.

The plan includes policy reforms and coordination across multiple city agencies, and is one of the most ambitious efforts ever undertaken to improve outcomes for black and Latino young men.

Over the next three years, the City will invest more than $127 million—including $60 million in private philanthropy—in programs and policies that target the areas of greatest disparity and need.

The Department of Education will play a key role in the success of the Young Men’s Initiative, including working on new efforts to close the racial achievement gap and help black and Latino boys reach their full academic potential. The DOE will also have new and increased responsibility for educating our students about sexual activity and the associated health risks.

As you know, New York State currently requires a one-semester, daily health education course in both middle and high school, but does not mandate sex education. While many of our schools have already voluntarily taken steps to include sex education in their curriculum, some have not, leaving us with an uneven system that I believe does not serve our students well.

When I first began working on the Young Men’s Initiative during my time as Deputy Mayor, I saw some very troubling statistics about our students’ levels of sexual activity and their health risks. We have students who are having sex before the age of 13; students who have had multiple sexual partners; and students who aren’t protecting themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. As a parent and a grandparent—and as the person responsible for ensuring that all of our public school students receive a high-quality education—that is very concerning.

I believe the school system has an important role to play with regard to educating our children about sex and the potential consequences of engaging in risky behavior. That is why, starting in the second semester of the upcoming 2011-2012 school year, we will be requiring both middle schools and high schools to include sex education lessons in their health curriculum.

Specifically, NYC public middle and high school students must receive sex education lessons during one semester in both middle and high school. Schools will have flexibility and support in deciding how to incorporate these lessons into their current health curriculum, as well as discretion as to which grade to offer the lessons. But we are strongly recommending that health instruction take place in 6th or 7th grade in middle school, and in 9th or 10th grade in high school.

We must be committed to ensuring that both middle school and high school students are exposed to this valuable information so they can learn to keep themselves safe before, and when, they decide to have sex.

As with our HIV/AIDS curriculum, we will offer a parental opt-out on specific lessons involving prevention and birth control. In the coming weeks, we will be providing you with information you can share with parents to that end.

As in the past, we are recommending The HealthSmart curriculum for middle schools. For high schools, we recommend adding the Reducing the Risk curriculum. You can find more information on the curriculum at this Web site.

The DOE’s Office of School Wellness Programs (OSWP) will be providing free trainings and curriculum to teachers and administrators starting in the first week of September. In addition, network staff will be available in the coming months to provide direct technical assistance to schools and answer additional questions you may have about programming and certification requirements.

This is a new policy, and it will take time to get ready for its implementation. Rest assured, we will work closely with you in the coming weeks and months to help ensure schools are prepared.

But I strongly believe this policy is overdue for our school system. I have always believed that parents should have the right to opt-out of certain sex education lessons such as conversations on prevention and birth control, as they will in this case. But I also feel we have a responsibility to offer our students access to information that will keep them safe and healthy.

I look forward to working with you and with our parents and teachers and partners in the greater school community to ensure this initiative is a success.


Dennis M. Walcott

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.