A group being led by former State Assemblyman Michael Benjamin says a new sex ed program mandated by Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Education involves field trips to abortion clinics and visits to “a sexually-explicit website.” City school officials tell the Observer there isn’t any specific sex ed curriculum and deny the site in question appears in their recommended materials.
A new citywide sex ed mandate is rolling out this year. It is the first time public middle and high school students in New York City are being required to take sex education. Bloomberg administration officials have characterized the sex ed mandate as an effort to improve the lives of minority teenagers.
Former State Assemblyman Michael Benjamin spoke out on behalf of New York City Parents’ Coalition today in the group’s latest statement attacking the sex ed program.
“New York is a multi-cultural city whose residents hold a variety of deeply held beliefs and social traditions. … It’s wrong to force them to choose between what the City is planning and no sex education at all. Parents who want a more traditional, abstinence-based sex education curriculum for their children should be able to have that,” Mr. Benjamin said.
Mr. Benjamin spoke against the city’s sex ed program on behalf of New York City Parents’ Coalition at an event yesterday where he appeared with newbie Congressman Bob Turner and a representative from Congressman Michael Grimm’s office. He’s currently preparing to run against Congressman Jose Serrano in 2012.
In his latest statements on sex ed, Mr. Benjamin also criticized the DoE for being unclear about the sex ed requirement.
“New York City parents have a right – under federal law – to know exactly what their children are being taught in school, yet the Department of Education seems to be hiding what it plans to teach about sex and that begs the question ‘why?’ … Why won’t the DoE tell parents what is in its mandatory curriculum? This roll out is occurring in just 10 weeks and there seems to be utter confusion about what is about to be taught. That is simply not acceptable for New York parents,” Mr. Benjamin said.
New York City DoE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg told the Observer the sex ed mandate doesn’t include any specific curriculum.
“We are not mandating any specific curriculum we are mandating sex ed as part of health classes. … It’s up to each principal who works with their health teacher to decide on their own what type of curriculum best suits their students,” Ms. Feinberg said.
Though the DoE said the city doesn’t have require a specific curriculum, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott responded to the New York City Parents’ Coalition’s charges by saying that a good sex ed program includes abstinence and other options.
“Abstinence is a very important part of the curriculum, but we also have a responsibility to ensure that teenagers who are choosing to have sex understand the potential consequences of their actions and know how to keep themselves safe. So we need a comprehensive curriculum. Abstinence is the only way to be 100 percent safe- but one-third of the new cases of chlamydia in NYC are in teenagers and a significant percentage of our teenagers have had multiple sexual partners, so we can’t stick our heads in the sand about this,” Chancellor Walcott said.
Parents are allowed to have their students opt out of sex ed, but the New York City Parents’ Coalition statement said choosing not to take the class requires “a lengthy and arduous process” that results in no sex ed rather than an alternative model. The New York City Parents’ Coalition also called out “some of the more outrageous materials we found in the City’s recommended curricula” like lessons that involve “sending students to corner drug stores to catalogue condom brands, visiting abortion clinics to inquire about confidentiality policies, and referring middle- and high-school children to a sexually-explicit website … where lessons in sadomasochism, group sex, and bizarre sexual fetishes are taught.”
The site in question is “Go Ask Alice!” a web page manned by Columbia University’s health services department. According to city school officials none of the books on the recommended list direct to the “Go Ask Alice!” Ms. Feinberg said the recommended curriculum, which includes materials on abstinence, “has been used in our system for many, many years.”
Mr. Benjamin said the DoE’s explanation that the mandate doesn’t require a specific curriculum made it “even more problematic.”
“That would then allow the institution to use a supplement like ‘Go Ask Alice!’ and also it leaves it up to the values of that particular instructor, which I think is a problem for myself and many parents … I think their response has gone from bad to worse, first they denied it was part of the curriculum, and now, they’re saying it’s just recommended,” Mr. Benjamin said.
Mr. Benjamin stressed to the Observer that his group doesn’t want to eliminate sex ed entirely.
“We’re very reasonable. We’re not saying, ‘Don’t do sex ed,’ we’re saying, ‘Do sex ed, but also do it for parents who have other views that want a more abstinence focused curriculum,” Mr. Benjamin said.
According to its statement, the New York City Parents Coalition is “comprised of concerned individuals and organizations” includingClergy for Better Choices, the Chiaroscuro Foundation, National Abstinence Education Association, LI Teen Freedom, Islamic Cultural Center of North America , Proud Parents of Staten Island, United Revival Mennonite Church, Masjid Sabur and the Harlem Islamic Center.
Update (3:13 PM): Mr. Benjamin told the Observer he is no longer considering a run for Congress and was merely “looking at the possibility” earlier this year.
“Each time I have been asked by any journalist I always say I’m quite happy in the private sector,” Mr. Benjamin said.
On October 12, Mr. Benjamin told the Riverdale Press he was “comfortable in his non-political life at the moment” but that a run for Congress was “a possibility, too.”