Pittsburgh school district expands decade-old sex ed policy

Pittsburgh Public Schools updated its sex education policy for the first time in more than a decade. While the review emphasizes that abstinence is the only 100% effective protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, it is no longer listed as the “expected norm”.

The previous policy, which was last revised in July 2011, listed abstinence as the expected norm and included language about promoting a healthy understanding of sexuality. Although the policy defined its approach as comprehensive, it did not mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

The updated policy, which the board unanimously approved at its meeting on Wednesday, expands the parameters of sex education to include consent, anatomy, gender identity and expression, gender identity and expression. orientation and identity, sexual health and interpersonal violence.

The district administration calls its curriculum comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, inclusive, anti-racist, and culturally appropriate.

The policy covers students from kindergarten through graduation. Depending on the district, the curriculum is taught according to the developmental level of the students. In elementary school, for example, students receive lessons throughout the year during physical education. In the early grades, teachers might not discuss gender, but rather basic body composition and identifying personal space and the personal space of others.

A group of organizations and students working together as part of the Black Girls Equity Alliance provided important feedback as the Board’s Policy Committee crafted changes. This alliance includes Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, Planned Parenthood and members of the University of Pittsburgh School of Health. Members backed the policy revisions at the council’s monthly public hearing on Tuesday.

Sydney Etheridge, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, told the board she supports the policy updates as a way to empower students to make informed decisions about their sexual health without shame or stigma.

“Starting these conversations early with responsible educators teaching an age-appropriate curriculum helps students develop an understanding and respect for themselves and others before they consider becoming sexually active,” she said. . “And if they choose to take this step, they are armed with the knowledge to proceed responsibly and safely by including comprehensive sex education in schools.”

Etheridge said Western Pennsylvania over the past few months has been a leader in “protecting access to sexual and reproductive health care.”

“I see this policy as an extension of those practices and hope that we can serve as an example for other school districts considering the sexual education and health of their students during this critical time,” he said. she stated.

Melissa Moore, counselor and supervisor of the Pittsburgh Child and Family Counseling Center Action Against Rape, told the council it was important to remove abstinence as an “expected norm” from the policy.

“PAAR believes that abstinence taught as the expected norm gives sex a negative connotation and may contribute to survivors of sexual abuse feeling more shame and guilt, now seeing themselves as wrong for having engaged in sexual activity” , Moore said.

Ryan Eldridge, district health, physical education and wellness coordinator, said the district used results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Survey, which PPS students carried out in the spring of 2019.

Survey results show that students in the district are above the national average when it comes to the average age at which students become sexually active. At a policy workshop in August, Eldridge told the council that data has led the district to prioritize a strong education in the early years.

Eldridge says college students reported having fewer sexual partners than state and federal averages.

As always, parents and guardians have the ability to remove their students from sex education. Students can be taken out of class and parents have the option of teaching the program at home.

The policy was immediately implemented after Wednesday’s vote.