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Student Activism Leads to Comprehensive Sex Education in Pittsburgh Schools

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March 4, 2009

Last winter, the mother of one of my school friends wondered if I would circulate a petition amongst the students. The idea of the petition was to encourage students to make their voices heard — to let the school board know we wanted a comprehensive sex education curriculum. One day, while collecting signatures in the lunchroom, my principal stopped me. She told me that I was “misinformed,” that the school board didn’t have an abstinence-only policy.

After that, I was involved in an incredible number of meetings and discussions. My principal told me that I was out of place and I wasn’t collecting signatures at the right time. I knew that I had been doing it appropriately. I only asked students to sign before and after school and at lunch. I was not disrupting anybody’s education. She wouldn’t drop it. Luckily, my mother works in a law firm that does pro bono work for ACLU, and they were on my side. I talked to them and learned about the rights I had.

During a meeting the next day, I told my principal that I had a right to do what I was doing; the First Amendment said so. She dropped everything and she agreed to let Planned Parenthood come to our school and teach a group of older students to be Peer Helpers and talk to classmates about any issues they were having with friends, significant others, or with sex. I had won the first battle; I still wanted to win the war.

On February 24, I attended the Pittsburgh Board of Education meeting to speak on behalf of the students. Nine other students were there as well. A small group of us met up beforehand, had dinner together, and discussed what we wanted to say and how we were going to say it. It was a wonderful feeling to be with other teenagers who felt so passionately about adopting a comprehensive sex education program.

I was treated with wonderful respect. Nobody yelled at me or called me inappropriate names. Many adults and teachers even walked up to me, thanking me for being at the meeting. Finally, it was my turn to speak. I sat down in the chair, turned on the microphone, and looked right at the superintendent, daring him to turn my request down. After my speech, applause broke out. Shyly, I sat back down. A student sitting next to me congratulated me on my speech. I hoped the board would finally understand why sex education is important.

A few days later, I was on Facebook when my dad sent me a link. The board had passed the new policy. Students will now be learning from a comprehensive sex education curriculum. I was thrilled. I had made a difference. Teenagers will be able to get the information they needed. They can lead a healthy life, knowing everything they need to know about sex. I have helped the future generations of Pittsburgh, and I have never been happier.

By Madeline Chandler is a senior at a public high school in the Pittsburgh School District.