- Metro TeenAIDS survey nearly makes parents cry.
Yesterday, The Georgetown Dish's Beth Solomon reported on the aftermath of a sexual education survey distributed to 7th grade boys and girls at Georgetown's Hardy Middle School. Some Hardy 7th graders who took the survey last Tuesday, Solomon reports, were "disturbed," "bewildered," and "confused" by its contents; one reportedly "hyperventilated." Solomon went on to report that Hardy parents were "outraged" and "practically in tears" over the "inappropriate" and "graphic" survey of their children.
It's unclear how many families Solomon contacted for this story; all complained anonymously. But last Tuesday is hardly the first time that local 7th graders have been confronted with information about sex. The "sex test," as Solomon calls it, is an initial survey conducted as a part of Metro TeenAIDS' "Making Proud Choices!" sexual education curriculum. The curriculum is described as a "series of classes that are designed to help students avoid HIV transmission, unplanned pregnancy, alcohol, and illegal drug use," and it has been administered to students in D.C. Public Schools for seven years running.
Metro TeenAIDS executive director Adam Tenner told TBD that in that time, he's never experienced anything close to the level of concern characterized in Solomon's piece. "Polling has been done in D.C., and parents overwhelmingsly support comprehensive sex education in schools," Tenner told me. Metro TeenAIDS' pre-curriculum survey is a good example of what that means: It asks students about their sexual orientations and gender identities. It inquires as to whether the students have ever engaged in oral, anal, or vaginal sex, whether they've been tested for HIV, whether they know basic STD prevention measures, and whether they feel comfortable saying "no." It also asks about students' previous alcohol consumption and drug use.
According to the anonymous parents quoted in the Dish, 12 years old is too young for Metro TeenAIDS' idea of comprehensive sex education. But according to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 23 percent of District middle school students have already had sex, 38 percent have had a drink, and 11 percent have used marijuana.
That's the thing about sexual education that actually works to prevent unplanned pregnancy and the spread of HIV: You've got to reach kids before they figure it out on their own. "Some of the national experts on reproductive health education agree that by the time 10 percent of a class of kids are sexually active, it's really important to get comprehensive sex education out to them that includes information about condoms as well as information about puberty and the changes that are happening to kids' bodies," Tenner says. "Some kids who take this survey may not yet be sexually active. Lots of kids are. We're hoping the curriculum has both long and short term impact here for encouraging kids to stay abstinent as long as possible," Tenner says.
But Tenner adds that regardless of sexual experience, students are rarely "bewildered" by the test: "We haven’t had much of that feedback. The survey was extensively pilot-tested. We've been using the same survey for many years. Students don't seem to have the issue of not understanding this survey."
The Hardy parents quoted in Solomon's piece were also concerned that they hadn't been alerted about the survey—or given the opportunity to remove their kids from class—before the 7th graders began putting pencil to paper. Tenner says that "DCPS sends out an opt-out letter to parents the week before anybody teaches reproductive education in the schools," but that Metro TeenAIDS isn't sure that protocol was followed in this case. "We don’t think that parents in question got the letter, and we're really regretful of that," says Tenner. "We really believe in the importance of parents being involved in reproductive health education in Washington, D.C."
Tenner says he never heard from the Georgetown Dish about the parent concerns (Solomon wrote that her "calls and e-mails" to the organization were not returned). Last week, one concerned Hardy parent called Metro TeenAIDS and "we spoke with her at length," Tenner says. "As far as we know, there's only been one registered complaint about this, and we've addressed it."
UPDATE: DCPS has released a statement on the survey.