Initiating the sex-ed conversation

It’s true, we’ve been talking about condoms this past week. You may have heard that we recently decided to expand our high school condom availability program into middle schools.

At first, you might think this means we’re giving condoms away to kids as they walk into the school building. We’re not. This program is about helping students make healthy choices for themselves.

Conversation first

With our updated policy, condoms will be available in middle schools next year, but only after a school nurse or social worker has an educational consultation with students who reveal they may be in need of contraception.

These well-trained, trusted adults will make sure the student is not feeling pressured to engage in sex and check if he or she understands all the potential risks of being sexually active. The student will learn how to effectively use a condom and will get help accessing other health care resources.

Age-appropriate education

Our commitment to providing age-appropriate sexual health education goes far beyond making condoms available to youth who need them.

In elementary schools, we help prepare students for puberty. In middle schools, we teach about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections — effective tools to reduce risks.

Our high schools use lessons from our pioneering sexuality and relationship curriculum — Be Real. Be Ready. — developed by teachers with the San Francisco Unified School District, the Adolescent Health Working Group and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Why do this at school?

We’ve done our homework. Nearly 75 percent of our middle school students tell us they have never discussed sexually transmitted infections or HIV with an adult at home. Talking with trusted adults goes a long way to help students make safe decisions.

While we understand parents are the primary educators of their children, we also know that if many of our young students are not getting accurate information about sex and sexual health, they might make ill-informed choices that will follow them their whole lives. Research shows sex education and condom availability do not increase sexual activity, and they do decrease the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies and infections.

State law compliance

With the recent passage of Assembly Bill 329, school districts in California are now required to provide comprehensive sexuality education to all middle and high school students. These lessons must be inclusive and accepting of all sexual orientations and teach about consent and sexual harassment.

Schools must also teach about sexually transmitted infections, HIV prevention and birth control. We’ve been doing this in San Francisco, and now it’s the law. In fact, school districts across the state regard us as a model for comprehensive health education and programs.

Vital student resource

Making comprehensive sexual health education available to middle school students is a vital link for students to make healthy choices for themselves. I feel fortunate to live in a city where so many parents and professionals care about the positive health and education outcomes of our young people.

For more information on the SFUSD’s comprehensive health education, visit www.sfusdhealtheducation.org.

Richard Carranza is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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