October 2008 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Poll Shows DC Parents Strongly Support Comprehensive Sex Education in Schools

A recent, citywide survey found that parents in the District of Columbia overwhelmingly support providing students with comprehensive sex education. According to the results, 85 percent of parents agree that both sex education and HIV education should be included as important parts of health education in DC public schools.[1] Zogby International conducted the survey on behalf of Metro TeenAIDS and the DC Healthy Youth Coalition. The poll contains a sample population of 652 parents who have students attending DC public and charter schools.

Major findings from the survey include:

• Regardless of race, the majority of DC parents is concerned with the growing prevalence of HIV and STDs in the District, and believes that preventing unintended pregnancies and HIV begins with comprehensive sex education.

• Parents believe that DC schools are responsible for teaching their children age-appropriate HIV prevention and sex education; and 90% believe that the parent’s role is to provide “moral and ethical guidance” on sex education while the school’s role is to provide “biological and scientific” sex education information.[2]

• Regardless of race or level of religious practice, DC parents strongly believe that comprehensive sex education that emphasizes abstinence but also teaches about contraception should be taught in the schools. Parents also want to be informed about what their children are learning in school about these topics.

• Nearly all parents agree that youth should receive HIV and sex education before they begin having sex, with the majority of parents indicating that this education should begin in 6th grade or earlier.[3]

Washington, DC has the highest rates of AIDS cases and teen pregnancy in the nation. In 2000, the pregnancy rate among young women ages 15–19 in the District of Columbia was 128 per 1,000 compared to the national average of 84 per 1,000.[4] In December 2005, the CDC reported that the AIDS incidence rate in DC was 128.4 per 100,000 while the national rate was 14 per 100,000.[5] The high rates of teen pregnancy and AIDS incidence attributed to parents’ strong support for teaching youth comprehensive sex education. In fact, 98 percent of respondents reported being ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about these alarming sexual health statistics; and an overwhelming majority of parents, 93 percent, “agreed that preventing unintended pregnancies, disease, and HIV infection among teens starts with comprehensive sex education.”[6]

The results of the poll reinforce the current work of the DC Public Schools (DCPS) to develop and implement new health education curricula that reflect the school system’s updated health standards. In December 2007, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to pass new Health Learning Standards—the first revision of the school system’s health education policy in 16 years. The new standards cover instruction on a full range of health topics taught at all grade levels, including education about sex, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, condoms, birth control, and teen pregnancy.[7]

“DCPS administrators and classroom teachers now clearly have a mandate from parents, as well as the support of the new health standards and the State Board of Education, to enhance immediately the quality and scope of sex education in DC schools,” said Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS.[8]

1 Metro TeenAIDS, “DC Parents Express Overwhelming Support for Comprehensive School-based Sex and HIV Education,” Press Release published 2 October 2008, accessed 14 October 2008, <http://metroteenaids.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/parent-poll-media-release_october2008.pdf>.
2 Question 14 from the poll asked participants whether they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed, or strong disagreed with the statement, “Schools can do a good job, probably better than most parents, on the biological and scientific aspects of sex education, but it is a parent’s job to provide the moral and ethical guidance.”
3 Metro TeenAIDS, “DC Parents Speak: Sex Education in Schools,” Fact Sheet, accessed 14 October 2008, <http://metroteenaids.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/mta_parentpollfactsheet_october2nd.pdf>.
4 “Teen Pregnancy Rate, Girls 15-19, 2000,” National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, accessed on 14 October 2008, <http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/state-data/state-comparisions.asp?id=3&sID=18>.
5 District of Columbia HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Annual Report, DC Department of Health (2007), accessed on 14 October 2008, <http://www.doh.dc.gov/doh/frames.asp?doc=/doh/lib/doh/services/administration_offices/hiv_aids/pdf/epidemiology_annual_2007.pdf>.
6 Metro TeenAIDS, “DC Parents Express Overwhelming Support for Comprehensive School-based Sex and HIV Education,” Press Release published 2 October 2008, accessed on 14 October 2008, <http://metroteenaids.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/parent-poll-media-release_october2008.pdf>.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.