Pennsylvania State Profile
Community-based organizations in Pennsylvania received $10,083,057 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
Pennsylvania Sexuality Education Law and Policy
Schools in Pennsylvania are not required to teach sexuality education. Primary, intermediate, middle, and high schools are, however, required to teach sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV education. Schools must use materials that have been determined by the local school district, are age-appropriate, discuss prevention, and stress abstinence as “the only completely reliable means of preventing sexual transmission.”
The state has created the Academic Standards for Health, Safety, and Physical Education, which includes STD- and HIV-prevention education. All decisions regarding HIV-prevention curricula and materials must be made by local school districts. School districts do not have to follow a specific curriculum, but they must use these standards as a framework for the development of their curricula.
School districts must publicize the fact that parents and guardians can review all curriculum materials. Parents and guardians whose principles or religious beliefs conflict with instruction may excuse their children from the programs. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
See Pennsylvania Code Title 22, Chapter 4, Section 29, and the Academic Standards for Health, Safety, and Physical Education.
Bill Calls for Sexual Violence Awareness Programs
House Bill 1129, also called the College and University Sexual Violence Education Act, was introduced in April 2007. It would require institutions of higher education and privately licensed schools to set up sexual violence awareness education programs. These programs must include a discussion of sexual violence, the possibility of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and information on where and how to get assistance and medical treatment if sexually assaulted. The bill was sent to the House Committee on Education on November 19, 2007.
Legislation to Amend Human Relations Act
House Bill 1400, introduced in June 2007, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill defines sexual orientation as “an actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality” and defines gender identity or expression as “an actual or perceived gender identity, appearance, behavior, expression or physical characteristic whether or not associated with an individual’s sex as assigned at birth.” The bill was sent to the House Committee on State Government on June 18, 2007.
Bill Aims to Create HPV Awareness
House Bill 845, introduced in March 2007, would require the Department of Health to promote public awareness about the relationship between the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. The Department would establish a program that incorporates written materials and brochures to enable individuals to make informed decisions about their health. Furthermore, HB 845 requires health insurance policies to provide coverage for the HPV vaccine for young women between the ages of 11 and 26. The bill was sent to the House Committee on Health and Human Services on March 19, 2007.
Parents Urge School Board to Adopt Comprehensive Curriculum
Parents in Pittsburgh are stepping up their campaign for comprehensive sexuality education with an online petition signed by over 200 parents. The group started its advocacy efforts in April 2007 when 15 parents, students, and health researchers spoke at a school board meeting and urged the board to modify the district’s abstinence-only curriculum to include discussions about contraception.
According to the city’s curriculum supervisor for health and physical education, Pittsburgh’s current abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum addresses AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, but does not include the discussion of contraception.2 The supervisor has argued that this abstinence-only approach reflects Pittsburgh’s “conservative mentality.”3 She noted that teachers are directed to answer questions about contraception if students ask them, but admitted, “There is room for improvement” in the curriculum.4
The board, however, took no action for almost a year. In response, two of the parents created an online petition demanding comprehensive sex education. The petition reads, in part, “In Pittsburgh Public Schools, teens aren’t receiving the information they need to make healthy and responsible life decisions.” It criticizes the curriculum for trying to scare students from sex, and for promoting a married, heterosexual lifestyle as the standard of behavior.5
One school board member, who has been in office for over thirty years, acknowledged that the district has had nothing other than abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. She thinks teaching abstinence is necessary, though agrees that it should be accompanied by enhanced education about STDs.6
The district plans to review the health and physical education curriculum—which includes the sex education curriculum—but did not promise to discard the current abstinence-only-until-marriage program.7
School Board Member Makes Anti-Gay Comments in Response to GSA
During a school board discussion on the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school, the Vice President of the Ambridge Area School Board, referred to the alliance as a “sex club.” When other board members suggested that he misunderstood the mission of the club, he replied, “Ok, the faggots.”8
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of Pittsburgh asked for the board member to formally apologize and to attend an anti-discrimination workshop, or to resign.9
When asked later, the vice president said he did not remember using the term, but that it was a part of his vocabulary because he was a member of an older generation that found different terms acceptable in referring to gays and other groups.10 As of July 2008, he remains listed as a school board member, though he is no longer the vice president.11
Despite the offending language, the GSA was approved.12
School District’s Designation of October as “Gay and Lesbian History Month” Sparked Debates October 2006; Philadelphia, PA
As the result of a contentious debate, the Philadelphia School district no longer designates months for special observations such as Gay and Lesbian History Month, Black History Month, or Hispanic History Month.
The controversy began in 2006, when in an effort to be more inclusive, the district designated October as Gay and Lesbian History Month.13 Many parents expressed concern that the curriculum would change to accommodate Gay and Lesbian History Month. Some parents suggested that this event was an endorsement of homosexuality, which was confusing to children and inappropriate for schools. One critic claimed homosexuality is a psychosis and called for a boycott of the schools. “Next, there may be fornication pride month, adulterer pride month, pedophile pride month, etc.,” he asserted at an October 2006 school board meeting.14
The school board assured parents that there would not be any district-wide curricula implemented or celebrations held to honor the month. The district’s spokesperson explained, however, that individual schools with Gay-Straight Alliances may have observances.15
Other parents and community members in Philadelphia were disturbed by the racial implications of the school board’s decision to equate Gay and Lesbian History Month with months designed to honor the history of racial/ethnic groups. “The problem for us then is not the month itself, but the claim it makes openly,” explained an official at the African-American Freedom & Reconstruction League. “The first claim is that Gay and Lesbian History Month is the same as Black History Month, and the second claim is the Gay struggle underline (sic) the African-American struggles for basic rights. When in reality the Gay and Lesbian History Month is introducing a lifestyle that is totally unacceptable to most people of African descent,” he continued.16
In August 2007, the district decided to remove all monthly designations from its 2007–08 school calendar. This move was also met with criticism, but this time from advocates for LGBT rights. “In a world where presidential candidates make appearances on lesbian and gay cable networks, you’re telling me it’s too controversial for the School District of Philadelphia? Come on,” said Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.17 The Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP also disapproved of the decision, saying, “The caveman mentality won the day, and that was sad.”18
The district said that the decision would have no effect on the curriculum.19
In Fiscal Year 2007,the Pennsylvania Department of Health waseligible for $1,693,422 in Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding. 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.However, Pennsylvania did notapply for these funds.Therefore, Pennsylvania did not provide matching funds nor did it have organizations supported by this type of federal money in Fiscal Year 2007.
In addition, new information indicates that no Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds were expended in the state in Fiscal Year 2006.21The Department of Health applied for and was awarded 2006 funds; however, the process occurredone year late.States have two consecutive years to expend any funds provided in a given Fiscal Year. Because Fiscal Year 2006 funds were awarded a year late, they had to be expended by June 30, 2007, the end of Pennsylvania’s Fiscal Year.The state was unable to distribute the funds prior to deadline and, therefore, the entire $1,693,422 Fiscal Year 2006 award was returned to the federal government unspent.
The last year the state of Pennsylvania expended any Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds was Fiscal Year 2002.
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There are nine CBAE grantees in Pennsylvania: HOPE Worldwide, La Salle University, Nueva Esperanza, Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Pennsylvania Association of Latino Organizations, People for People, Rape and Victim Assistance Center of Schuylkill County, To Our Children’s Future with Health, Inc., and Women’s Care Center of Erie County, Inc. There are three AFLA grantees in Pennsylvania: The Wellness Center/Crozer-Chester Medical Center (receives two grants), Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh, and To Our Children’s Future with Health, Inc. In addition, Pennsylvania received $3.36 million in earmarks for abstinence-only-until-marriage funds from the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill in Fiscal Year 2007.22
The earmark funds were specifically designated for 29 organizations in the state. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) is ranking member of the committee and has a great deal of discretion over funds within the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. In Fiscal Year 2003, Specter set a new precedent for the federal funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs by securing earmarks of approximately $3.15 million within the federal Omnibus Appropriations Bill (which included the Labor-HHS appropriations bill that year) for individual abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in his home state of Pennsylvania. This was the first time a member of Congress earmarked money for specific abstinence-only-until-marriage programs outside of the three traditional federal funding streams. Senator Specter continued these earmarks in Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005. Each of these years, Senator Specter earmarked over $3 million for Pennsylvania-based organizations.
The Pennsylvania Association of Latino Organizations (PALO) conducts the Latino Youth Sexual Abstinence Project “It’s a Better Life.”23 “It’s a Better Life” is aimed at Latino youth in middle school and high school and uses an abstinence curriculum developed by PALO for participating membership organizations. 24
Women’s Care Center of Erie County, Inc., a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), receives both CBAE and earmark funding. . 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. Women’s Care Center of Erie County, Inc. runs the “Abstinence Advantage Program (AAP).” AAP provides abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to “thousands of students in the Erie County region both public and private.”25
AAP uses several different curricula; Character in Action is used for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, the Choosing the Best series is used for students in middle school, and WAIT (Why Am I Tempted) Training is used for students in ninth grade.
SIECUS reviewed two of the curricula produced by Choosing the Best, Inc.—Choosing the Best LIFE (for high school students) and Choosing the Best Path (for middle school students). These reviews found that the curricula name numerous negative consequences of premarital sexuality activity and suggest that teens should feel guilty, embarrassed, and ashamed of sexual behavior. For example, Choosing the Best LIFE states that, “Relationships often lower the self-respect of both partners—one feeling used, the other feeling like the user. Emotional pain can cause a downward spiral leading to intense feelings of lack of worthlessness.” Choosing the Best PATH says, “Sexual activity also can lead to the trashing of a person’s reputation, resulting in the loss of friends.”26
In addition, 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 outdated 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.”27
To Our Children’s Future with Health, Inc. (TOCFWH), which receives CBAE, AFLA, and earmark funding, uses the curriculum Discovering Dignity: An Education Training Program for Youth?28 TOCFWH trains adults as “Certified Abstinence Education Facilitators” who then provide abstinence-only-until-marriage programming to fifth through twelfth grade students in schools, community-based programs, and faith-based settings.29
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007