Comprehensive Teen Health Agenda Proposed to Promote Healthy Behaviors Among Youth

Velmanette Montgomery

October 10, 2007

Brooklyn, NY (October 10, 2007): In the wake of the NYS Health Department’s rejection of $3.5 million in federal funds for abstinence-only programs, New York State and City lawmakers, together with  more than 50 advocates for youth, have proposed a comprehensive, three-pronged Teen Health Agenda aimed at safeguarding New York’s young people from sexually-transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy.

The plan was announced at Long Island University’s campus in Brooklyn, New York. The Senator and advocates were welcomed by Barry Eckert, Dean of the School of Health Professions and Evelyn Castro, Associate Dean of the School of Education.

"There is no denying that our young people are talking about and engaging in sexual activity. We need to replace dialogues about abstinence-only with educational talks about sexuality that will empower our children to make smart choices about their personal health," said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), noting that there is currently no comprehensive sex education curriculum in New York’s public or charter schools and no designed state funding stream for this purpose.

Senator Montgomery, along with State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), youth organization representatives, education leaders, healthy care professionals, clergy, teens and parents, discussed and expressed their support for the Teen Health Agenda, which calls for:

u The passage of Senator Montgomery’s legislation (S.6205) mandating the teaching of comprehensive age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education in grades 1-12 in public schools and charter schools. Under the Senator’s bill, the curriculum would be developed and implemented by the commissioners of the State Departments of Education, Health and Mental Health.

u A substantial increase in funding for New York’s 196 School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) statewide. In the 2007-08 State Budget, SBHCs received a minimal increase of $675,000 over the previous year’s budget year. The centers -- which bring free-of-charge primary health care and mental health services to students of all ages -- are suffering huge financial losses due to steep increases in the number of new clinics and the number of children being served.

u Enactment of the Healthy Teens Act (A.2856/S.1342) in New York and the federal Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act to fund the teaching of comprehensive sexuality education.

Underscoring the need for these actions, Catherine Abate, Community Healthcare Network President and CEO said, "Numerous studies have found that abstinence-only programs have failed to provide young people with the information they need to make healthy decisions and prevent unplanned pregnancies and transmission of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Young people need comprehensive sex education which provides age-appropriate and medically accurate information. Our youth need the facts to allow them to make responsible decisions and take charge of their health.

We applaud the Senator's leadership on the critically important issue of providing comprehensive sex education to our youth in New York. Denying our teens the information they need to prevent sexually transmitted infections as well as preventing adolescent pregnancies, puts our children's lives at risk. Ignorance in the area of sexual issues, is not bliss, it is downright dangerous," said Jennifer Weidenbaum, Associate Executive Director Girls Incorporated of New York City.

Senator Liz Krueger
(D-Manhattan), supporter of Senator Montgomery’s bill and co-sponsor of the Healthy Teens Act, said, "The lack of comprehensive, age-appropriate, sex education has real life and death consequences. Middle school and high school hallways are filled with talk about sex and much of this information is completely wrong. It is time we move these discussions out of the hallways and into the classroom where trained professionals can provide our kids with the ammunition they need to protect themselves."

Discussing the role of SBHCs in providing counseling and education about sexually transmitted diseases and other risky behaviors, Lutheran Family Health Centers’ Chief of Pediatric and Adolescent Health Dr. Norma Villanueva, said, "Teen Health services are most easily accessed in School-Based Health Centers {SBHCs}. Funding to expand the current services and to increase the number of SBHCs is desperately needed, especially now in the face of the defeat of SCHIP. We need the support of the Department of Education in providing complete and accurate information regarding normal development and reproductive health. This includes a curriculum that is not just about abstinence, but about the real choices that teens are facing and making daily."

Senator Montgomery, along with legislators and advocates, also launched a petition drive intended to enlist support for the Teen Health Agenda from New Yorkers statewide. The petition calls on the Governor and commissioners of various state and city agencies along with Mayor Bloomberg to support and adopt the Teen Health Agenda. It will be circulated by legislators, community-based groups, students, parents and others.

"The NYCLU applauds Senator Montgomery’s efforts in support of comprehensive sex education. We must ensure that teens get comprehensive information on prevention of pernancy and sexually transmitted infections so that they can grow up to be healthy adults. We look forward to working closely with the Senator on reforms that will improve the health and lives of New York’s teens," said Galen Leigh Sherwin, Director, Reproductive Rights Project, New York Civil Liberties Union.

Joining Senators Montgomery and Krueger as petition sponsors are State Senators Shirley Huntley(D-Queens); Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn; Suzi Oppenheimer )D-Westchester); Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx/Westchester).

"According to the federal government’s own data, abstinence-only education does not keep teenagers from having sex. What it does, however, is endanger their health by promoting ignorance about their bodies and infectious diseases. Having a dedicated funding stream for comprehensive sex education will protect our sons and daughters against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease, included life-threatening illnesses," said Senator Diane Savino.

Others who expressed support for Senator Montgomery’s Teen Health Agenda, include NYC Council Member Letitia James (D-Brooklyn); NYC Council Member Darlene Mealy (D-Brooklyn); Honorable Olanike Alabi, 57th AD District Leader; Gale Stevens Haynes, Provost, Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus; Martha Kamber, Executive Director, YWCA of Brooklyn, Director, North Shore/Long Island Jewish School-Based Adolescent Health Centers (Far Rockaway); Rachel Figueroa, LMSW and Anthony Schmertz, LMSW, William F. Ryan Community Health Center (operates 6 school-based health centers in NYC); Ulysses Kilgore, Director, Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center; Director, Center for Anti-violence Education; Chaplain Anita Burson, Columbia Presbyterian Church; Reverend Emma Jordan Simpson, Children Defense Fund; Joseph DiNorcia, President and CEO,Sexuality Information Council of the United ; Ngozi Moses, Executive Director, Brooklyn Perinatal Network; Bettie Mays, Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center; Cecelia Traugh, Ph.D., Dean/Director Center for the Urban Educators, Associate Dean of the School of Education; K Myrie, MD, MPH Medical Director Lutheran FHCN School Health Program Charles KingPresident/CEOHousing Works, Inc; Luz Villamil-Bayona, Site Director,Sunset Park Family Health Center Network/ Lutheran Family Health Centers, Laudato Community Health Project Inc, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center;Tracy Hobson, Center for Anti-Violence Education; Dr. Bob HouckFriends of the Children-H.S. Interns; and Mandy Van Deven, Girls for Gender Equity-Red Hook Health Initiative; Pace University Students; Charles KingHousing Works Inc.; Geneva Musgrave Emmanuel Baptist Church; Gio Canba Phillips, CWHA; and Leora Keith, Thompkins Houses President.