ACLU Says Rhode Island Department of Education Failed to Adequately Review Harmful Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Curriculum

December 18, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:    
CONTACT: media@aclu.org 
 
PROVIDENCE, RI - The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today said the state Department of Education had failed to adequately review a harmful abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum developed by Heritage of Rhode Island before letting it back into the schools.  In a five-page letter submitted to the department today, the ACLU urged officials to reconsider the decision, saying that the curriculum raises serious medical accuracy and discrimination concerns.

“If Heritage is unable to comply with state standards for comprehensive sexuality education then it is up to the Department of Education to pull the curriculum from the schools,” said ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown. “Its failure to do so puts teens at risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs, and undermines the state’s non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian students.”

In March, after the ACLU alerted state officials to problems with the Heritage curriculum that had been offered in Pawtucket and Woonsocket public schools, the Department of Education notified schools across the state that the Heritage materials had been “determined to be NOT consistent with the Rhode Island Health Education Standards.”  At the time, the ACLU pointed out that the curriculum was filled with misinformation, sexist stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes towards gay and lesbian families.  

Last month, the Department of Education approved a revised Heritage curriculum for use in public schools.  However, the ACLU noted in today’s letter that the curriculum continues to have serious flaws.  For example, the materials suggest that condoms only protect against chlamydia and gonorrhea 50 percent of the time, contradicting findings from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization that speak to the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against STDs. 

Moreover, the Heritage curriculum persists in isolating gay and lesbian youth and students in non-traditional families by suggesting that marriage is responsible for better health, lower rates of injury and illness, lower rates of depression and an increased “likelihood that fathers and mothers have good relationships with their children.” This emphasis, said the ACLU, “appears to be a roadmap to instilling depression, if not fear, in gay and lesbian teens who cannot benefit from marriage and in other students who live in non-traditional households.”

The ACLU of Rhode Island’s efforts to stop the misuse of public dollars to fund ineffective, medically inaccurate, and discriminatory abstinence-only-until-marriage sex ed programs is part of a national ACLU campaign, which encourages health and life-skills curricula that present medically accurate, age-appropriate, and unbiased information about sex and sexuality.  Since 1997, the federal government has spent more than a billion dollars on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Yet research indicates that many such programs do not help teens delay having sex, and some studies show that these programs actually deter teens from protecting themselves from unintended pregnancy or disease when they start having sex. 

Today’s letter is available online at: www.riaclu.org/documents/2006HeritagelettertoDOE1215.pdf

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