By Ray Sanchez
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City public schools will teach mandatory sex education classes to all middle- and high school students, part of a citywide initiative to help reduce teenage pregnancies, officials said on Wednesday.
The required classes, the first mandated sex education in nearly two decades, will be taught to children as young as 11 years old and tackle such topics as the proper use of condoms and ways to resist unwelcome sexual advances.
Public schools will be required to teach a semester of sex education to sixth or seventh grade classes and again to ninth and tenth graders, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a letter announcing the plans.
The move is part of an effort by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to improve the lives of black and Latino students who are disproportionately undereducated and unemployed, and far more likely to have unplanned pregnancies, according to city officials.
Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that 41 percent of New York City youth said they were sexually active by 9th grade and 58 percent by 12th grade.
"We must be committed to ensuring that both middle school and high school students are exposed to this valuable information so they can learn to keep themselves safe before, and when, they decide to have sex," Walcott said.
Opposition from conservative groups and some school board members defeated a city mandate approved in the 1980s for a sex-education curriculum.
Separately, in 1987, New York state mandated an HIV/AIDS curriculum in every school from kindergarten through 12th grade which is still in effect.
New York state also requires middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. But some schools do not include sex education in health classes.
"While many of our schools have already voluntarily taken steps to include sex education in their curriculum, some have not, leaving us with an uneven system that I believe does not serve our students well," Walcott said.
Walcott said parents can choose to take their children out of classes on birth-control methods if they want.
The New York Civil Liberties Union praised the plans, saying in a statement: "There is a consensus among public health experts and the public that age-appropriate, medically accurate comprehensive sex education is essential for providing teens with the tools to become healthy adults."