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Victory for Sex Ed in Pittsburgh: An Organizer’s View

Terri Klein,
ACLU of Pennsylvania
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February 27, 2009

We are celebrating a wonderful victory in Pittsburgh! Tuesday night the Pittsburgh School Board approved the adoption of a K-12 comprehensive sexuality policy for the district. For over two years, I spearheaded the effort to make this change.

It all started when I was shocked to find out that the Pittsburgh Public Schools taught an abstinence-until-marriage curriculum. As a parent who is fairly active in my children’s education, this came as a huge surprise. In fact, none of my friends had any idea this was going on in our children’s different schools.

The first task was to educate other parents about the sad state of affairs of the health curriculum. We began with house parties where the scary stuff of abstinence-only programs was “outed.” Once people knew what was being taught, they were motivated to help change the curriculum.

I organized a group of community members (parents, taxpayers, staff from supporting organizations) to develop a strategy to change hearts and minds of school board members. We used every tool in the organizer’s handbook. We testified at public hearings, started on on-line petition and had students collecting student signatures for a petition in favor of comprehensive sex ed. The online petition was a success — more than 750 city residents signed on and through the magic of the Internet, we even had a signatory from Australia. We secured media coverage, and our early efforts were documented in the Freedom Files.

Our greatest surprise: the lack of opposition from parents, from the media, from the school board. Even though all the polls show overwhelming support for teaching our kids sex education, we expected some level of opposition. Happily we were disappointed.

It helped that our timing was exquisite &#8212 the rise in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections made our campaign prescient. Special thanks also to Sarah Palin who showed how well abstinence-only worked out for her family! The election of a new school board member who took a leadership role for comprehensive sex ed probably sealed the deal.

I hope that our efforts will inspire others to make their schools’ curriculum relevant to all teens.

Terri Klein is a board member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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