About 15 students, parents and university researchers asked the Pittsburgh school board last night to modify the district's conservative approach to sex education and begin including a discussion of contraception in health classes.
The group, organized by Squirrel Hill resident Terri Klein, said Pittsburgh Public Schools does students a disservice by stressing abstinence while withholding other information they could use to make important choices.
Better, they said, for students to get factual information from their teachers than possibly inaccurate information from friends. They claimed abstinence-based programs don't reduce the rate of sexual activity.
"It's OK to talk about abstinence, but let's make sure it's more than that," Oliver High School senior Towan Hall said, noting that some of his friends became parents "long before they wanted to be."
Ms. Klein, the parent of two children in city schools, said she was appalled to learn the district doesn't offer what she called "comprehensive" sex education.
She and other speakers said they don't condone sexual activity among teenagers, but they urged school board members to face facts. Many youths are sexually active, they said, and can use information about contraceptives to prevent pregnancies and the spread of diseases.
"It is our duty to prepare them for these situations," said Megan Kavanaugh, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.
Andrea deChellis, an East Liberty resident and organizer with New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, said the focus on abstinence is insulting to students who have been sexually abused or assaulted or those who are parents already.
Sarah Jameela Martin, curriculum supervisor for health and physical education, said the district's approach to sex education reflects the city's conservative mentality. She said sex education is included in health classes at various grades and emphasized that the district addresses AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
While methods of contraception are not discussed in class by teachers, Mrs. Martin said, guest speakers from social service agencies sometimes talk about them. Also, she said teachers have been directed to answer any questions students may ask about contraception or related issues.
"But there is room for improvement" in the curriculum, she said.
The school board also heard last night from a handful of Perry Hilltop residents angry with the board's decision to use the former Clayton Elementary School as a site for a new alternative school, to be operated by Nashville, Tenn.-based Community Education Partners.
Residents said they didn't want the district to concentrate about 430 disruptive middle-grade and high school students in the residential neighborhood. One speaker, Theresa Lomperski, said North Side neighborhoods are working hard at revitalization.
"Please do not bus in 432 new problems," she said.
Joe Smydo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.