Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) (2012)

White Papers and Reports

Released in September, 2012, by New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), this report examines sex education materials in use during the 2009-2011 academic years in over 100 school districts across New York State. No state law, regulation, or policy requires that students receive basic sexual health and relationship information, and decisions on sex education curricula are left to individual school districts, administrators, and teachers.

The report found many curricula to be inaccurate or factually limited regarding reproductive anatomy and physiology, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections. Abstinence-only materials were widely used and often featured moral overtones and shame-based messages about sexuality. LGBTQ students were at a particular disadvantage; most materials did not mention sexual orientation and gender identity, and those that did often cast LGBTQ persons in a negative light. Heterocentric bias and gender stereotypes dominated discussions of sexual health, dating and relationships, and sexual violence, leaving LGBTQ students with little to no relevant information.

State law requires that information about HIV be taught in all public schools, from Kindergarten
through the 12th grade. Eighty-eight percent of the districts surveyed provided information (albeit of varying accuracy and completeness) on the nature and transmission of HIV and on the use of male condoms; just over half of the districts surveyed provided information the authors deemed complete and scientifically accurate.

The authors set forth a number of recommendations to ensure that all public school students receive comprehensive, medically accurate, unbiased, and age-appropriate sex education. They urge the New York State Education Department to amend regulations and require sex education in schools or, short of that, to establish minimum substantive criteria for voluntary sex education. The Dignity for All Students Act may also be a means for the Department to formally recommend that districts include curricula on bullying, harassment, gender identity, sexual orientation, and related topics. The authors urge the state legislature to do the same through new legislation.