The Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has taken a big step to standardize and improve sexuality education in its schools. On April 26, 2006 the board voted unanimously to approve the Family Life and Comprehensive Sexual Health Education policy, which will require schools to teach comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education programs in grades 6–12.
Students and youth leaders affiliated with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH), who had been working to improve and shape sexuality education policy, celebrated the decision. “We believed that the entire school system needed to make a commitment to providing life-saving information to Chicago schools, so we took our cause to the top,” said Mayadet Patittucci, a senior at Curie Metropolitan High School.1 Patittucci and other students organized two rallies in August 2005 and again in December outside the district's administration building that lead to meetings with CPS administrators and a hand in crafting the new policy.
The new policy calls for a curriculum committee to design a program that will provide students with “age-appropriate and medically accurate information concerning the emotional, psychological, physiological, hygienic and social responsibility aspects of family life.”2 In particular, the curriculum will emphasize abstinence as the “expected norm” but will also include instruction on contraception, STD and pregnancy prevention, and HIV transmission.
The only objection noted during the Board's decision was from a representative of the Illinois Abstinence Coalition, a group of organizations that support an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach. Board President, Michael Scott responded that abstinence would be represented as the curriculum is created but added that “the policies will be realistic based on [teen] practices.”3
The 2005 Youth High Risk Behavior Survey found that over half of all CPS students report having had sexual intercourse. In addition, the Illinois Department of Public Health recorded almost 6,000 teen births in Chicago in 2003. Young people ages 15–24 also accounted for 71% of Chlamydia and 61% of gonorrhea cases recorded in the state in 2002.4
A study conducted by ICAH shows that sexuality education classes are failing to help many Illinois teens learn the skills they need to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs and develop healthy relationships. The findings revealed that although 92% of sexuality education teachers in Illinois believed students need to receive accurate information on safe sex and birth control, 66% of Illinois classrooms are not providing comprehensive sexuality education. In addition, 30% of teachers polled were not trained to teach sexuality education and, of those who were trained, 30% felt they needed more training.5
The new CPS policy hopes to remedy this by requiring teacher training for all educators responsible for teaching the Family Life and Comprehensive Sexual Health Education program.
“The new CPS policy comes at a crucial time,” said Jonathan Stacks, campaign manager for ICAH, “just ask any parent, they'll tell you that they need help to combat all the inaccurate information kids get from peers and the media. They need help to make sure their children have the accurate information they need to stay safe.”
For more information about ICAH, see: www.icah.org .
- David Mendell, “Sex Ed to Cover Birth Control,” Chicago Tribune , 27 April 2006, accessed 16 May 2006, <www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-0604270023apr27,1,2262647.story>.
- Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, “Chicago Public Schools Ensures Comprehensive Sex Education for All Students,” press release published on 26 April 2006.