QUEENS — Although high school health teachers talk about condoms when discussing sex ed, they've been barred from showing actual condoms in the classroom and giving practical demonstrations — with bananas, for instance — on how to use them.
However, starting in September, the city is changing its sex ed policy to allow in-classroom condom demonstrations for the first time in years, according to the Department of Education. The policy change was first reported by The Classic, the newspaper at Flushing's Townsend Harris High School.
"Condom demonstrations have long been part of the high school condom availability programs and have been shown to increase rates of condom use," DOE spokesman Jason Fink said in a statement. "Allowing condom demonstrations in high school health education class will provide students with medically accurate information that can help them stay healthy."
Superintendents were informed of the new policy in mid-May and are now informing their schools, DOE officials said.
In 2011, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a policy mandating students in public middle and high schools to take sex education classes. Teachers described how to use condoms but were not allowed to demonstrate unless students made a special request for tutorials, which had to be given in their school's Health Resource Room, where condoms are distributed.
Parents currently can opt their children out of the sex ed discussions about birth control and will also have the right to pull their kids from the classroom demos starting in the fall, officials said. Parents are required to write a letter to their school's principal explaining why they want their child out of sex ed and promising "that that they will provide instructions on prevention to the child in their home," according to the DOE rules.
Townsend Harris health teacher Maria Assante called the current policy “incredibly irresponsible," The Classic reported.
"We have 1,200 kids in this school. Let’s say 200 kids opt out," Assante told the paper. "That leaves us 1,000 kids going to college without learning the right way to put on a condom from a trained professional."
Health class helps students develop good decision-making skills, she added. "If you have those, you will know how to live a long, healthy life. Sex education is a part of that."
Students also said they welcomed being able to see actual condoms rather than just read about them.
“A lot of people need more hands-on experience in trying to understand how things really work," Townsend Harris senior and HIV/AIDS peer educator Daja Nasib told The Classic.