Last week, a seventh grade sex education survey at nearby Hardy Middle School caused so much hysteria that Principal Dana Nerenberg put any future sexual education programs on indefinite hold. A vocal minority of parents feel that the survey—which included questions about gender identity, sexual activity, pregnancy, drug use, and sexual orientation—was inappropriate for their 12-year-olds. Despite protests from squeamish parents, programs like these form a critical and necessary part of early sexual education.
One of the major problems with the survey was that Hardy administrators failed to send a letter offering parents an opportunity to pull their child out of the class before the survey was administered. This is unacceptable, especially given how sensitive the topics covered by the survey are. But Nerenberg should not question the value of sexual education programs because of her school’s clerical error.
Sexual education is necessary in the D.C. Public Schools system. Almost a fourth of D.C. students are sexually active by middle school. Cutting this sexual education program would leave Hardy students without critical information about STDs and pregnancy. D.C., with its extremely high HIV/AIDS rate, is an especially dangerous place for someone who is uneducated about safe sex.
Local media coverage of the survey’s fallout following last week’s survey was focused on anonymous parents railing against Hardy administrators for exposing students to topics like gender identity and sexual orientation. While parents have the right to decide how their children are educated about reproductive health, casting dialogue about sexual identity in a negative light only reinforces prejudices. On the other hand, teaching students at an early age about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues promotes tolerance and acceptance in later life.
Topics like sexual orientation should not only be acceptable to talk about, they are in many ways necessary for middle school classrooms. Many students at this age already know that they are gay or transgender—even if they cannot yet define these terms. The confusion reportedly felt by some students during the survey only underlines their need for more information.
Hardy parents should wake up to the realities of society today, where middle school sex education is a necessity. Even at such an early age many students are already sexually active. Comprehensive sexual education programs can give students the tools and information they need to be sexually responsible.