Washington, D.C., Board of Education Approves Health Education Standards That Include HIV/AIDS Information
The Washington, D.C., State Board of Education on Thursday voted to unanimously approve systemwide guidelines for health and physical education that include grade-specific sex education and information about HIV/AIDS, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, the guidelines emphasize abstinence education (Silverman, Washington Post, 12/14).
The vote comes after the release of a report last week by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice that criticized public school officials for delays in implementing a comprehensive HIV/AIDS education program in the city. The center gave the district's public school system a "D" grade for its lack of progress in providing HIV/AIDS education to students. "In the midst of this crisis, students should be getting information in school that will help prevent infection for the rest of their lives," the report said, adding that despite several school board resolutions for immediate action, "fewer and fewer" young people have received HIV/AIDS education in recent years. The group called on school board leaders and Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration to set strong standards and curricula on HIV/AIDS before classes start next fall (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/12).
The new health standards will apply to district public and charter schools, the Post reports. According to the standards, fifth grade students, for example, will be expected to know about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and understand why abstinence is an effective method of preventing pregnancy (Washington Post, 12/14). The guidelines also say that students as early as the sixth grade should be taught that "people -- regardless of biological sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and culture -- have sexual feelings and the need for love, affection and physical intimacy."
According to the Washington Times, the guidelines were formulated in part with input from focus groups that included parents and educators, as well as from "highly touted health standards" nationwide (Emerling, Washington Times, 12/14).
"We consider these standards to be abstinence-based but yet a comprehensive sex education," Superintendent Deborah Gist said (Washington Post, 12/14). Adam Tenner -- executive director of Metro TeenAIDS, which serves HIV-positive youths and their families and helped develop the standards -- said the guidelines are essential to help officials respond to HIV/AIDS and to allow teens to live healthy lifestyles. "It's the dawning of a new day, where ideally every young person should get the same information," Tenner said, adding, "We all need to support and demand that that's what happens next."
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, the Family Research Council, and Urban Life Training and Reality Assessment Teen Choice said the standards are not age-appropriate and would undermine abstinence-only messages. At least five district-area pastors also sent a letter to the board, saying that the "standards introduce values that are not acceptable to many of the parents with children being served in the District of Columbia schools and are not in alignment with values we are teaching the families in our churches." John Stokes, a spokesperson for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, said the curriculum could be in place as early as next fall (Washington Times, 12/14).