Sexuality education should be a top issue in campaign
Sep. 5, 2013
What do condoms and sex ed have to do with the high school dropout rate? A lot. Becoming a parent is a leading cause of dropout for girls and a factor in why many boys drop out. Given that Boston’s high school dropout rate is nearly double the state average, providing the resources and education teens need to make healthy decisions and decide if and when to become a parent should be a priority for everyone concerned about opportunities for young people and the future of our city.
It must be a top priority for our municipal leaders.
The Boston School Committee approved a wellness policy in June that makes a commitment to comprehensive sexuality education and condom availability for high school students. Through the power to appoint the new superintendent of the public school system, the next mayor will determine the overall direction of BPS and set the pace for implementation of the new wellness policy.
Without proper implementation of the policy, students might be educated about HIV, but receive no information about how to prevent the disease. And while some teachers could provide medically accurate, age-appropriate instruction on how to prevent pregnancy, others might skip over those details.
Providing that medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education helps young people to stay healthy and works to reduce unplanned pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. This is especially important in Boston, where the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea occur in young people ages 15-19 and the dropout rate is 5.2 percent, compared to a state average of 2.9 percent. Access to condoms and information on safe sex will empower students to make informed decisions.
To educate voters about where the candidates stand on these important issues, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund (PPAF) prepared a voter guide for Boston’s races for mayor and At-Large City Council. PPAF reached out to every mayoral candidate to engage them on sexual health issues and the role the wellness policy can play in addressing other urban problems. We also engaged candidates for City Council At-Large.
There is good news for Boston: nine of the twelve mayoral candidates support access to comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health care services. But the city’s residents would benefit from a more robust conversation on the campaign trail about these issues. PPAF has tabled an endorsement decision until after the preliminary election and, instead, has challenged the mayoral candidates to expand their platforms to include full implementation of the wellness policy and engage voters in conversations around how they will make Boston a healthier community.
In the race for City Council At-Large, PPAF has endorsed Ayanna Pressley and Jack Kelly, both of whom are public health advocates committed to full implementation of the wellness policy. Our voter guide shows many of the other candidates are also supportive of these issues. Certainly, this is a sign of positive change and progress for the city of Boston.
In the preliminary election on Sept. 24 and the general election on
Nov. 5, we must elect a mayor who will build on the progress Boston’s School Committee made when it passed the wellness policy. We must elect a mayor who will neither impede implementation of the wellness policy nor allow it to fall through the cracks during this leadership transition.
Our mayor must champion district-wide, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sexuality education and empower his or her new superintendent to invest the resources necessary for implementing the wellness policy.
Every young person in Boston needs the knowledge to make healthy decisions, the opportunity to pursue his or her education, and the ability to decide if and when to become a parent. That’s why the wellness policy is so important. Voters must do their part to assure a strong future for Boston’s young people by electing candidates who champion comprehensive sexuality education as part of a holistic, integrated approach to strengthen our city’s future.
Martha (Marty) Walz is president of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts