CHICAGO — Moving to meet state and national guidelines, but also to address some disturbing teenage health statistics, the Board of Education voted Wednesday to expand sex education in public schools.
"From a public-health standpoint, it's an absolute imperative," said Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. "It can no longer be limited to a few minutes over a few grade levels."
The program will largely be divided into kindergarten through fourth grade, with an emphasis on family life, and fifth grade through high school, covering complete sexual health.
Dr. Stephanie Whyte, chief health officer for Chicago Public Schools, presented statistics showing that Cook County ranks first nationally for rates of gonorrhea and syphilis among all counties and second in Chlamydia.
Teenagers made up more than a third of all Chicago gonorrhea and Chlamydia cases in 2011, she added, and human-immunodeficiency-virus cases in the city have risen 43 percent among teens since 2000.
According to Whyte, more than half of all CPS high-school students report having had sexual intercourse, 12 percent before the age of 13. More than a third reported not using a condom during their last sexual intercourse, and more than a quarter say they've never been taught about HIV.
CPS also reported 909 cases of sexual harassment or misconduct during the last school year.
Aldermen Deborah Graham (29th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th) joined in the public-comment session by stating the statistics could have been even more damning by citing the incidence among minority groups.
"Our communities need a rude awakening," Reboyras said.
Age-appropriate sex and family education will now be taught at all levels, Whyte said, not just with a concentration in fifth grade. "Parents are primary" in the process, she added, and would be apprised of everything their children would be taught at a given level. They will also be presented the opportunity to "opt out," should they so choose, "in accordance with state law."
Whyte said it would bring CPS into alignment with new state and national sex-ed guidelines approved last year.
The seven-member board seemed receptive to the new policy, but for Andrea Zopp taking issue with the Sexual Health Education acronym: SHE. She said sex education and sexual responsibility was not just a woman's concern, and it was unfortunate the acronym suggested that.