ATTENTION NEW YORK!
Today is Statewide Call-In Day! Opponents of Women’s Equality Agenda are flooding the Capitol today with anti-equality propaganda. Call your legislators TODAY to tell them you support women’s equality, and they should too! (To find your legislators: Go here: http://www.nysenate.gov/senators to locate your Senator, and go here:http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?sh=search to locate your Assembly member!) Let’s make sure our representatives know we want the Women’s Equality Agenda to become a reality in New York!
New York Post to NYC Teens: Give Birth!
Last week, New York City’s Department of Health released numbers showing that teen pregnancy rates in the city have fallen considerably in the last decade. So for some reason, the New York Post, the city’s conservative home town paper decided it needed to stir up a fake controversy by suggesting that the Bloomberg administration is trying to keep the data on how much birth control schools have really distributed under wraps.
Health Commissioner Tom Farley certainly didn’t seem to have anything to hide when he hailed the city’s 27 percent decline in teen pregnancy. Farley suggested that the drop comes because fewer teens are having sex and more teens using birth control.
Farley said “It shows that when you make condoms and contraception available to teens, they don’t increase their likelihood of being sexually active. But they get the message that sex is risky.”
The commissioner is referring, in part, to the school district’s CATCH Program, Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health, which uses Health Department doctors and school nurses to prescribe and distribute birth control to students. The program also provides pregnancy tests; education on contraceptive methods, including condoms; STI prevention education; education on pregnancy options and referrals to primary care; STI testing and treatment; and mental health counseling. The program started in 2011 with five schools and expanded to 13 schools by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.
The CATCH program made headlines at the start of the school year when a New York Post article said it was giving out Emergency Contraception to students has young as 14 without their parents’ knowledge. This was not accurate. The Health Department says that parents were made aware of the program and told them that they had the right to “opt-out” if they did not want their child to be allowed to receive contraception at school. Only one to two percent of parents at these schools chose to “opt-out.”
Despite this, the Post insisted the program was controversial and parental authority was being usurped.
Vaginas Are Sperm Depositories and Other Scary Things About the State of New York’s Sex Ed Curricula
Along with many others children, teens, and adults, this week I went back to school, too. I started teaching Introduction to Human Sexuality at a local college, something I haven’t done in about six years. In an effort to gauge what my students had already learned and what they wanted to know, I gave them an anonymous questionnaire which, in part, asked them to describe their sexuality education up until this point. At least five of them said that they’d had the “standard” or “usual” high school sex education. Unfortunately, this wasn’t particularly enlightening to me because as a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) highlights: when it comes to sex ed there is no such thing as standard; every district or even every classroom is different.
A survey of school systems across New York was conducted by NYCLU to determine what, if anything, they were teaching students about sex. Schools in the state are not required to teach comprehensive sexuality education, and while they are required to teach about HIV and certain other health topics, most of the lessons do not address sexuality or relationships. Schools do have to teach about alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; the prevention and detection of certain cancers; child development and parenting skills; and interpersonal violence. They do not, according to the new report, Birds, Bees, and Bias, How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York Students, have to teach about “healthy relationship skills, STI and pregnancy prevention, puberty, [and] anatomy” or “other core aspects of effective, comprehensive sex education.” In 2005, the Department of Education issued state standards for health education, which included many topics related to sexual health. However, these standards are voluntary, and school districts do not have to comply with them. The authors also mention the National Sex Education Standards, which were released early this year by a number of national organizations. These set minimum content requirements for concepts in sex education but are also not binding. The report concludes:
“The current legal and policy climate permits schools in New York to decide what, if any, sex education they will teach beyond the mandated HIV education. As a result, whether New York’s teens graduate from high school with the information and skills crucial to making lifelong healthy and informed decisions about sex and relationships rests in the hands of each individual school district, principal and health education teacher, with little guidance and even less oversight.”
To determine what students are learning, NYCLU sent questionnaires to a sample of school districts across the state making sure to include small, medium, and large districts. New York City was excluded in part for efficiency purposes. Since the surveys were sent out, however, the city passed a sex education mandate that went into during the 2011-2012 school year. NYCLU says: “We look forward to reviewing New York City data and instruction at a future date.” In total, 108 school districts were included, representing 542,955 students or nearly half of all students enrolled in districts outside New York City. In addition, the authors reviewed the most commonly used textbooks in the state.
The study found major gaps in the education young people should have been receiving, as well as numerous factual errors and biases in the information they were actually given.
Crime and Obesity: Let’s Get to the Heart of the Problems
There is something deceptively simple about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blanket initiatives. Whether it is giving the police unfettered discretion to stop and frisk anyone they think might look like a potential criminal because “it saves lives,” or banning the sale of large-container sodas because, well, that saves lives too, the initiatives promise easy fixes to complex problems.
They are, however, based on a blindness to prejudice that is compelling precisely because it is wrong.
In short, Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives purport to be color- and class-blind. If the stop-and-frisk program affects mostly men of color, Bloomberg argues, this is purely coincidental. And if most of New York City’s overweight population lives in the poorest boroughs, that is also just by chance. Maybe, this line of argument implies, it is just that men of color and the resource-poor make appallingly bad decisions about their lives and health.
Incidentally, I am not arguing that our definitions of what should be subject to punitive measures and what constitutes a “normal” weight are perfect or even always good. The point I am making is about policy effectiveness. And in that sense, even a cursory look at correctional and obesity statistics in the United States reveals deep-seated disparities which knee-jerk reactions — in particular those that blatantly ignore color and class —cannot fix.