The following was submitted as a letter to the editor.
As summer begins to wind down and kids head back to school, those of us who are advocates for reproductive health education that addresses sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV/STD prevention have reason to feel hopeful.
In the city with the nation’s highest rates of new HIV/AIDS infections, the role of education is crucial to keeping ALL youth safe and to ensure that future generations live free from HIV. Appreciating this connection, city leaders have shown considerable commitment to improving schools.
In December 2007, the D.C. State Board of Education passed Health Learning Standards, which were based on national best practices and outline what information and skills students should be acquiring in Washington, D.C. classrooms. Since then, the leadership at D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) has taken these standards seriously and begun to move forward, and the results are very promising.
In the last three years, D.C. Public Schools have been working diligently to ensure that all students receive a complete, age-appropriate, science-based health education. The DCPS curriculum, which meets the Standards, covers everything from the diversity of family configurations to the importance of family and trusted adults when questions about sexual orientation arise. The curriculum also emphasizes the importance of abstinence while also providing students all the information and skills needed to protect against HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Teachers’ training on content and sensitivity has increased and there has been positive movement on instructional quality.
Building up from the Standards, the D.C. Council passed the Healthy Schools Act in May, 2010. Although the media focused primarily on obesity and soda taxes, the Act contained much that will ensure that more youth will have access to high quality health education.
We now believe that all the regulatory and legislative barriers to effective, age appropriate and comprehensive health education in D.C.’s public and charter schools have been removed. The last hurdle, as is often the case, is implementation.
Metro TeenAIDS and our partners are grateful to Michelle Rhee and her staff for their continued commitment to health education. We also look forward to working with Superintendent Briggs as we plan for assessing the quality of health education in D.C. and the full implementation of the Healthy Schools Act.
Despite the election fervor, our community must hold the line for providing high quality health education to all students. We must ensure that schools become the front line defense against HIV and other STDs. The health of our community depends on it. –Adam Tenner, executive director, Metro TeenAIDS