Sex education returns to classrooms of New York
For the first time in nearly two decades, students in New York City's public middle and high schools will be required to take sex education classes this year, with a curriculum that includes how to use a condom and discussions on the appropriate age for sexual activity.
The new mandate is part of a strategy the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has announced to improve the lives of African and Latin American teenagers. City statistics show that these teenagers are more likely than their white counterparts to have unplanned pregnancies and contract sexually transmitted diseases.
''It's something that applies to all boys and all girls,'' the deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda Gibbs, said.
The change will bring a measure of cohesion to a system of programs largely chosen by school principals.
It will also involve New York in the roiling national debate about how much students should be taught about sex.
New York City's new mandate goes beyond the state's requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. It calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade and again in 9th or 10th grade.
The New York sex education program is part of a raft of public health efforts introduced by Mr Bloomberg's administration - including the push to reduce the intake of salt and sugary sodas - which has been criticised as interventionist. It is also unique because the city does not usually tell schools what to teach.
But, while knowing many teenagers are sexually active, the administration wants to teach them safe sex to reduce pregnancy, disease and dropouts.
New York high schools have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years but, in the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them and why, going into areas some schools have never ventured before.