New York State Profile
The Department of Health and community-based organizations in New York received $13,156,824 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
New York Sexuality Education Law and Policy
Health education is required for all students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in New York. This instruction must provide information about HIV/AIDS. Health education is taught by classroom teachers in kindergarten through sixth grade; in seventh through twelfth grades, HIV/AIDS instruction must be taught by teachers who have been given appropriate training and curriculum materials by the board of education or trustees.
All HIV/AIDS education must “provide accurate information to pupils concerning the nature of the disease, methods of transmission, and methods of prevention.” This instruction must be age-appropriate and consistent with community values and “shall stress abstinence as the most appropriate and effective premarital protection against AIDS.”
Each local school board must establish an advisory council to make recommendations on HIV/AIDS instruction. The state does not require or suggest a specific curriculum, but does provide a curriculum framework, the Learning Standards for Health, Physical Education, and Family and Consumer Sciences. The framework does not specifically mention sexuality education though certain topics within sexuality education are included, such as “understanding of the changes that accompany puberty.”
Parents may exempt their children from HIV/AIDS classes as long as the school is given “assurance that the pupil will receive such instruction at home.” This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
See New York Commissioner’s Regulations 135.3 and Learning Standards for Health, Physical Education, and Family and Consumer Sciences.
Bill Aims to Amend Education Law
Senate Bill 6205, introduced in June 2007, would amend the education law and would require all public schools to implement a comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate sex education curriculum to be taught in grades one through twelve. The bill was sent to the Committee on Rules in June 2007.
Bill to Require HPV Vaccination for 6th Graders
Assembly Bill 5810, introduced in February 2007, would require girls entering sixth grade to receive the HPV vaccination. Parents or guardians with religious, moral, or other valid oppositions to having their child receive the HPV vaccine may receive exemption. The bill was sent to the Assembly Committee on Health on February 23, 2007.
Unintended Pregnancy Prevention Act Introduced
Assembly Bill 5569 and Senate Bill 3579, introduced in February 2007, would allow New York State pharmacists and registered professional nurses to dispense emergency contraception (EC) to patients who do not have a prescription. The bill allows pharmacists to dispense the contraception from a non-patient specific order, written by a licensed physician, certified nurse practitioner, or licensed midwife. Young women would additionally have access to information from these professionals. The bill passed out of the Assembly and moved to the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Healthy Teens Act Introduced
Assembly Bill 2856 and Senate Bill 1342, introduced in January of 2007, would establish an age-appropriate sexuality education grant program with the intent of providing “grants to eligible applicants to support age-appropriate sex education grant programs for young people.” The bill provides parameters for these education programs, requiring that each are: “medically accurate; does not teach or promote religion; teaches that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases; stresses the value of abstinence while not ignoring those adolescents who have had or are having sexual intercourse; and provides information about the health benefits and side effects of all contraceptives and barrier methods.”2 AB 2856 passed in the New York State Assembly on March 17, 2008, and was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Health committee.
Dignity for All Students Act Re-Introduced
Assembly Bill 3496 and Senate Bill 1571, introduced in January 2007, would amend the education law to “afford all students in public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.” The bill specifically states such discrimination or harassment from public school employees or students on school property or at a school function is prohibited, and that schools will create policies and procedures to ensure this environment. It also directs various state agencies to assist schools with training, model policies, and provides funds to implement policies, guidelines, and direct services. AB 3496 was passed by the Assembly and was referred to the Education committee in the Senate on February 27, 2008.
Probing Questions Provoke Investigation, Student Protest
A security guard at Tri-Valley High School, in Grahamsville, NY allegedly inappropriately questioned female students about their periods.3
School regulations prohibit backpacks or large purses in the hallways. The only students exempted from this policy are menstruating young women. In September, the security guard allegedly pulled students from class to determine whether they were menstruating, and as such, could carry a purse. 45 A senior said that the questioning was intimidating.6
Some students, male and female, expressed their disgust by wearing tampons and sanitary napkins on the outside of their clothes; a few creatively adorned themselves with tampon jewelry and tampon-box purses.
The school district launched an investigation and the guard was put on administrative leave during investigation.7
Students' Use of Word “Vagina” Sparks Controversy
March 2007; Cross River, NY
Three students at John Jay High School in Cross River, NY sparked a controversy that gained national attention when they used the word vagina during an open mic session at their public school.
Each of the young women was punished with a one-day suspension from school after reading a passage from The Vagina Monologues, a play by Eve Ensler that the author calls “an anthem about female empowerment.”8
School officials explained that the students had been warned prior to their presentation that they could not use the word vagina because there would be young children in the audience.9 The principal asserted that the suspension was for insubordination and not for using the word. “When a student is told by faculty members not to present specified material because of the composition of the audience and they agree to do so, it is expected that the commitment will be honored and the directive will be followed,” he said in a written statement. “When a student chooses not to follow that directive, consequences follow.”10
The students contended that they had never made such an agreement, and that cutting the word from their presentation amounted to censoring artistic material.11 Their suspension drew attention and concern from the community, and sparked a debate about freedom of speech in public schools that made national headlines. Ensler joined the discussion, supporting the girls’ decision. “Why a school has a problem with teenagers saying the word vagina is beyond me, and is truly a throwback to the dark ages,” she said. “It’s just shocking in 2007 to even be engaged in this dialogue.12
As a result of the media attention, the superintendent decided not to suspend the girls after all.13
Students Host Party for Progressive Sex Ed
A graduating senior at Nyack High School teamed up with local parents to organize a safer-sex information party. The student explained that she had been fighting for a better sex education curriculum since she was a freshman but had grown to believe it would never happen.14
At the event, which included dancing, contests, music, food, and games, students had honest discussions about sexuality and received medically accurate information. Staff members from both Planned Parenthood and the Care Net Pregnancy Center were on hand to offer information.
Building upon their event success, the organizers plan to create a peer education group. The informational troupe would be student-run but enhanced by adult participation.
Flare-up Over Anatomy Drawing Results In Teacher’s Removal from Classroom
January 2007; Yonkers, NY
An educator at the Pearls Hawthorne School in Yonkers, NY was removed from the classroom for asking his seventh-grade students to draw the male body on the board.
As part of a lesson on human anatomy and sexuality, the teacher asked for volunteers to draw the male body, including the genitalia, on the board. A parent complained that this activity was inappropriate, and the school administrators agreed. A spokesperson for district said, “There was no way we were going to let him be in front of children.” She continued to say that instructors need sensitivity when working with children, and that this teacher’s classroom activity was inappropriate.15 The superintendent recommended that the board of trustees terminate the teacher’s contract.
Some parents, however, thought the school overreacted. One said, “This is biology, it’s anatomy, it’s human sexuality… [the students] are in puberty. They’re aware of it on one level or another.”16
New York, New York
New York received $3,676,827 in federal Title V funding in Fiscal Year 2007. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant requires states to provide three state-raised dollars or the equivalent in services for every four federal dollars received. The state match may be provided in part or in full by local groups. In New York, the match was provided by state revenues totaling $2,600,000. Part of this funding was distributed to 36 sub-grantees.
One sub-grantee, Directions For Our Youth, Inc., used its Title V funding to hold a variety of parent and teen workshops on life skills. The curriculum for these workshops was provided by the Confederation of Spanish and American Families based in Chicago, a CBAE grantee that provided Directions for Our Youth with money and materials to conduct the workshops. The program uses WAIT (Why Am I Tempted) Training, a popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum.18
SIECUS reviewed WAIT Training and found that it contained little medical or biological information and almost no information about STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Instead, it contains information and statistics about marriage, many of which are outhated and not supported by scientific research. It also contains messages of fear and shame and biased views of gender, sexual orientation, and family type. For example, WAIT Training explains, “men sexually are like microwaves and women sexually are like crockpots….A woman is stimulated more by touch and romantic words. She is far more attracted by a man’s personality while a man is stimulated by sight. A man is usually less discriminating about those to whom he is physically attracted.”19
Another Title V sub-grantee is H.O.P.E. Initiatives CDC, Inc. in Rochester, New York. The organization’s mission states, in part, “HOPE Initiatives approaches [the] change process from a Biblical world view, convinced that effective, lasting transformation only occurs on the foundation of scriptural principles.” This organization uses the FACTS: Family Accountability Communicating Teen Sexuality curriculum.20
SIECUS reviewed the FACTS curricula and found that they provide incomplete and inaccurate medical information; present opinions and beliefs as universal truths; and portray a biased view of gender, marriage, family structure, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options. For example, FACTS includes the following list of negative consequences of premarital sex: “Pregnancy, financial aspect of fatherhood, abortion, HIV/AIDS, Sths, guilt, rejection, loss of reputation, inability to bond in the future, challenge to not compare future sexual partners, alienation from friends and family, poverty, and the inability to complete school.” FACTS also tells young people in no uncertain terms that life begins when sperm and egg meet: “At conception, the baby came into being. Even though he or she was only the size and appearance of a pencil dot, the baby was a separate, genetically unique individual.”21
Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding Status
In October 2007, the state of New York decided no longer to participate in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. The announcement was made by the State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard F. Daines. He concluded, “The Bush administration’s abstinence-only program is an example of a failed national healthcare policy directive…” and that the policy was “…based on ideology rather than on sound scientific-based evidence that must be the cornerstone of good public healthcare policy.”22 The decision goes into effect for Fiscal Year 2008.
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There are eleven CBAE grantees in New York: Adolescent and Family Comprehensive Services, Be’er Haolah Institutes, Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo, Builders for Youth and Family- Diocese of Brooklyn, Catholic Charities of Western New York/Buffalo (ProjecTruth) (receives two grants), Catholic Charities of Chemug and Schuyler, Catholic Charities of Oneida/Madison County, Jewish Child Care Association (receives two grants), Mother and Unborn Baby Care of Long Island, Inc., Niagra County, and Program REACH.
There are eight AFLA grantees in New York: Adolescent and Family Comprehensive Services, Be’er Haolah Institutes, Builders for Youth and Family- Diocese of Brooklyn; Catholic Charities/Syracuse (Neighborhood Centers) (receives two grants), Educators for Children, Youth, and Families, Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital, Program REACH, and the NiteStar Program/St Luke’s Roosevelt-Hospital Center.
Catholic Charities of Western New York/Buffalo runs “ProjecTruth,” an abstinence-only-until-marriage program that focuses on the consequences of pre-marital sex. Under the heading “Contraception- Why Not?,” Catholic Charities states that “Condoms Don’t Protect the Fragile Heart” and “Contraceptive education fails to address the emotional and psychological consequences of sex outside of marriage for an adolescent’s future happiness.”23 Since 2001, ProjecTruth, which operates in schools, community centers, faith communities, and social service organizations, has reached approximately 30,000 young people throughout western New York.24
ProjecTruth uses A.C. Green’s Game Plan, a popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum. SIECUS reviewed Game Plan and found that in order to convince high school students to remain abstinent until marriage; the curriculumrelies on messages of fear and shame, inaccurate and misleading information, and biased views of marriage, sexual orientation, and family structure. In addition, Game Plan fails to provide important information on sexual health including how students can seek testing and treatment if they suspect they may have an Sth. Finally, the format and underlying biases of the curriculum do not allow for cultural, community, and individual values, and discourage critical thinking and discussions of alternate points of view in the classroom. For example, Game Plan states that, “Even if you’ve been sexually active, it’s never too late to say no. You can’t go back, but you can go forward. You might feel guilty or untrustworthy, but you can start over again.”25
As a part of its abstinence-only-until-marriage program, ProjecTruth’s maintains a website with a specific section for teens entitled “Sex…Not Yet! Why Wait?” This section gives young people the following advice about sex: “Outside of marriage it may be pleasurable, it may be passionate, but it isn’t life-giving—meaning it doesn’t help build a relationship—in fact, it often destroys relationships.”26
Mother and Unborn Baby Care of Long Island, Inc., another CBAE grantee, runs the “L.I. Teen Freedom” abstinence-only-until-marriage program. L.I. Teen Freedom uses several different curricula and resources in its program, including WAIT (Why Am I Tempted) Training,the Choice Game, and materials from The Medical Institute (formerly the Medical Institute for Sexual Health) and Health Edco.27 (See the Title V Section for more information on WAIT Training.).
The Choice Game is an interactive CD/DVD software program, created by Several Sources, that teaches “healthy choices” about abstinence, drugs, alcohol, and teen pressures. Several Sources has produced two versions of this resource: an “urban version” and a “Midwestern version.”28 Both versions include a section on teen pregnancy. On the website, the urban version follows a young pregnant woman of color as she attempts to decide if she will marry, put the child up for adoption, or raise the child alone. Abortion is not discussed as an option. The young woman is shown as having no support until the home for pregnant teens (which Several Sources also runs) steps in—her grandmother cannot help her raise the child because “you know that landlord won’t have no babies,” her boyfriend leaves to join the Navy, and her boyfriend’s mother doubts if her son is the father. The Midwest version does not deal with unintended pregnancies, instead stating that this “curriculum has as its exclusive purpose to teach abstinence and is consistent with the abstinence-until-marriage message.”29 While it is often appropriate to create culturally competent curricula geared to the specific population or community in which the program will be used, the double standard implied by these two versions is disturbing. Several Sources seems to suggest that while young people in the Midwest have the ability to decide to save sex for marriage thereby avoiding unintended pregnancies, their “urban” counterparts do not and will be left to deal with the consequences.
On its website, L.I. Teen tells young people to postpone sexual intercourse because “The repercussions of the sexual revolution are now having a negative effect on our youth.”30 L.I. Teen Freedom has an Sth quiz containing incorrect, biased information. For example, the quiz asks, “True or False: The same industry that advocates sex before marriage also gets rich by selling condoms and performing abortions.” L.I. Teen Freedom states, “the correct answer to this question was True.”31
Program REACH (also known as Project REACH), which is both a CBAE and an AFLA grantee, is an anti-abortion organization. Project REACH’s tagline is “Promoting the Culture of Life in New York,” and the majority of its website is devoted to lists of various anti-choice organizations and resources including local and national crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).32 Crisis pregnancy centers typically advertise as providing medical services and then use anti-abortion propaganda, misinformation, and fear and shame tactics to dissuade women facing unintended pregnancy from exercising their right to choose. Project REACH conducts abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the greater New York City metro area.33
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007
Adolescent Health Contact34