CHICAGO A new sexual health program in the Chicago Public Schools mandates that a set amount of time be spent on sex education in every grade, beginning in kindergarten. The program also will discuss sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time.
Under the new policy, approved by the Chicago Board of Education, kindergarteners and first graders will focus on topics such as anatomy, healthy relationships and personal safety, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In second and third grades, the focus will be on growth and development. Fourth graders will learn about the physical, social and emotional aspects of puberty, along with the causes of HIV transmission, the Tribune reported. After fifth grade, the program will include discussions about human reproduction, healthy decision-making, bullying and contraception.
"They're very much pushing an extreme agenda across the board, both to normalize sex and begin the conversation earlier, and in total the K-12 curricula is explicit and not in the best health interests of the young people," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.
Stephanie Whyte, chief health officer for Chicago Public Schools, told the Tribune the overhaul was motivated by the fact that more students are sexually active.
"Fifty-two percent of our students have had sexual intercourse," Whyte said, referring to the most recent school system data.
The policy, approved Feb. 27, also was designed to align with the standards in President Obama's national HIV/AIDS strategy, unveiled in 2010, according to ABC News.
The vision for that strategy states that the "United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination."
Parents or guardians of students may opt out of Chicago's new sexual health education program.
Huber said she is "vehemently opposed" to starting sex education in kindergarten.
"I think it really goes back to how we define age appropriate. The groups who are promoting those standards would essentially define age appropriate as anything that can be cognitively understood even though it's not developmentally appropriate," said Huber. "So really there are no limits to what you can share as long as you make the vocabulary elementary enough.
"We think that does not make it age appropriate. It breaks down barriers of modesty. It also opens up topics long before the curiosity and the understanding of the child is there, and we think that if there are specific questions, certainly those should be asked, but they should be asked of parents, not in our kindergarten classrooms," she said.
Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said it's his view that sex education is best handled in the family.
"I would certainly personally be very cautious about entrusting [that] to the public school system especially in a time when the culture's view of sex is so different from the Bible's in so many ways. We would certainly believe that the family is a more appropriate place for that to take place," Adams told BP.
Chicago has the third-largest public school system in the United States, and Huber said their actions could influence other communities.
"They are not unique, but they are a very large school district in a very large city," she said. "So I think the fact that they are doing this could bring other more reticent communities along the way."
The new Chicago policy comes just weeks after the Massachusetts Department of Education issued a directive saying boys and girls who identify as the opposite sex now are allowed to use whichever school restroom and locker room they prefer.
"There is a coarsening of our culture, obviously, and we've said for a long time that young people are growing up in one of the most highly sexualized times in American history," Huber said. "It's troubling."
The National Abstinence Education Association commissioned a survey of parents late last year that found parents are not supportive of current sex education policy in U.S. schools.
"They are supportive of sexual risk avoidance abstinence education, the way we cover topics, and they want their children to wait until they're married to have sex. They want them to know that there are limitations to condoms and that sex plus a condom doesn't equal safety," Huber said of the parents in the study.
"They want them to know about healthy relationships and all of those sorts of things, and I think that most parents and this was Republican, Democrat, black, white, Hispanic parents were pretty much in unanimity," she said.
Policymakers in some schools and in some communities, and even at a national level, Huber said, "are totally out of step with what parents want and certainly what's in the best interest of young people, whether they're kindergartners or teenagers.
"I can't look into their minds and know what their motivations are. All I can say is their decisions are wrong-headed," Huber said. "They're out of sync with what research tells us is best for young people, out of sync with what parents want, and it would be interesting to get inside their heads and see because they're terribly off track."
The new sexual health program in Chicago will not be implemented until 2016, so an opportunity exists for parents and concerned citizens to make their opinions known.
"It will be interesting to see this unfold, and I have hope that the parents in the Chicago Public Schools will rise up in defense of the sensibilities of the community and protection of their own children and voice their disapproval before this policy is actually implemented," Huber said.