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Comptroller Stringer Report: High Number of Middle and High School Students Aren’t Taught “Sex Ed”

Just 57 percent of eighth grade students completed the New York State-mandated requirement of one semester of health

Comptroller calls on DOE to implement new Chancellor’s Regulation guaranteeing sexual education for all middle and high school students

A new report released by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer shows that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) is not providing comprehensive health education — as required by state law — to all middle and high school students, and is not prioritizing “sex ed” as part of a larger health curriculum. The Comptroller’s report, Healthy Relationships: A Plan for Improving Health and Sexual Education in New York City Schools, highlights the deficiencies in the City’s ability to provide sex ed, with just over half of all middle school students receiving their mandated semester of health education and only 7.6 percent of all health instructors receiving any professional development related to sexual health education over the last two years. The new report comes as several indicators regarding sexually transmitted infections (STI) rates and sexual risk behaviors are ticking up among teenagers.

“Our goal is to paint a broad picture for everyone with a stake in City schools, and to create a roadmap that ensures our kids are getting the comprehensive education they deserve. Most parents expect their schools to be teaching sex ed, and as our report shows, it isn’t happening. We know there are many competing demands for City schools, and many critical areas of growth on which to focus. We did this report to elevate the conversation about a topic that is serious and, I believe, crucial for our students – and we hope to see the needle move in the right direction in the future,” Comptroller Stringer said. “We, as a city, are defined by how we treat our children. Yet, when just a fraction of eighth grade students are getting mandated instruction, I’m alarmed. That’s why I’m calling on the DOE to implement a Chancellor’s Regulation that guarantees sexual health education for all middle and high school students. It’s commonsense, it should be codified in the rules, and it should be considered part of a standard classroom education for all – not a luxury for a few.”

Specifically, Comptroller Stringer’s report found:

  • Only 57 percent of eighth grade students completed the New York State-mandated requirement of one semester of health taught during the middle school years;
  • Only 7.6 percent of all health instructors participated in any professional development related to sexual health education within the last two years;
  • Of all 6-8 middle schools specifically, 28 percent do not have a teacher assigned to teach health;
  • 88 percent of schools that teach students in grades 6-12 (844 schools) have no teacher who is licensed by New York City for health education. This includes:
    • 92 percent of middle schools (398 middle schools)
    • 53 percent of high schools (446 high schools)
  • Across all grades in New York City, 568 out of 1043 – or 45 percent – of health teachers are not state certified;
  • Just 144 of the 4,560 teachers in middle and high schools who were assigned to teach health are actually licensed by the City to do so;

At the same time, public health data shows that:

  • 4 percent of New York City teenagers reported experiencing sexual dating violence during the past 12 months, according to a 2015 survey of public high school students in grades 9-12. On average, New York City teenagers place over 1,400 calls to the City’s Domestic Violence hotline each month;
  • While pregnancy rates among New York City teens have dropped overall in recent years, they remain elevated in some parts of the city. Teen pregnancy rates in the Bronx, for instance, remain the highest in the state – in 2014, there were 69 pregnancies per 1,000 females age 15-19 years, compared with the citywide rate of 48.1 per 1,000;
  • In New York City among youth ages 13-19, incidents of chlamydia and gonorrhea both were on the decline after reaching peaks in 2011. However, both began to inch up again in 2015, the most recent year for which there is city data, for the first time since 2010; and
  • According to the 2015 National School Climate Survey, 85 percent of LGBTQ students reported verbal harassment, while 13 percent reported being physically assaulted. Public health data show that LGBTQ youth are more likely to engage in risk behaviors that contribute to attempted suicide and substance abuse, and are at increased risk for homelessness – making the need for comprehensive sexual education all the more important.

The report comes as sexual health education is under attack in Washington. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that all grant funding through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program would be terminated two years early, and the Republican Congress has already moved to strip its funding along with the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), opting instead to support abstinence-only sexual education. These funding streams support many Community Based Organizations that are providing sex ed instruction in both schools and communities, making it even more critical that schools are consistently delivering quality comprehensive sexual health education to students.

New York State law requires that all students receive health instruction, and that students in grades 6-12 be taught health by a certified health instructor. While New York State law does not explicitly require that sexual health be included in mandated health instruction, the NYC DOE has advised principals since 2011 to include sexual health as part of health instruction for grades 6-12. As the most recent data shows, very few schools are in compliance with either the state requirement or the City’s policy. What is needed is deepened accountability and greater communication prioritizing the importance of sexual health education. As a result, the Comptroller called on the DOE to implement a Chancellor’s regulation that guarantees sex ed for all middle and high school systems as part of a comprehensive – and common-sense – middle and high school education.

The Comptroller’s report puts forward a series of findings and recommends a set of reforms based on best practices from other cities aimed at helping students develop healthy, informed outlooks on their own sexual health and identity.

DOE Should Issue a Chancellor’s Regulation Regarding Sex Ed

The DOE should mandate sexual health and wellness instruction in the health curriculum taught in 6th to 12th grades through a Chancellor’s Regulation, and expand the mandate to include K-5th grades following National Sexuality Education Standards.

DOE must comply with State law by ensuring all secondary school health instructors are certified to teach health

Schools that do not have certified health instructors in grades 6-12 should provide a pathway for certification for at least one health instructor. This may include covering or subsidizing the cost of certification or other incentives.

Improve methods of evaluation and public reporting

A review of sexual health education should be included as part of every school’s quality review, conducted by the Department of Education.

Expand School Wellness Councils to all schools

School Wellness Councils are existing volunteer bodies that can provide oversight and emphasize the importance of sexual health education but they are not in place in every school.

Coordinate sexual health and wellness efforts

The Department of Education needs to better synchronize efforts and resources specific to comprehensive sexual health offered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence (OCDV).