The Sex Ed Subcommittee of the Thrive NJ Coalition – a diverse group of parents, community members, and advocacy groups – released on Tuesday, “New Jersey’s Sex Ed Report Card,” an evaluation of the status of sex education in New Jersey.
While giving the state a passing grade, the report identifies many barriers to accessing sex education.
“We must listen to students, parents, and educators, who are telling us that we can and must do better when it comes to sex education,” said Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey. “One of the best ways to improve sexual health is to deliver high-quality sex education. New Jersey is missing the mark in some areas; we must correct course.”
The coalition surveyed New Jersey public school parents and guardians, teachers and school administrators, and students using three separate surveys.
Just over half of students surveyed find their sex education classes to be useful. More than 60 percent of parents give sex education a “C.” According to the report, parents “feel that their children are getting average sex education — better than nothing — but it needs to be improved.” More than three-quarters of students and parents indicated that more time needs to be devoted to sex education instruction.
The surveys revealed several overarching themes including: sex education is not provided in a consistent manner from district to district, school to school, or even teacher to teacher; schools are still using ineffective and stigmatizing materials that promote abstinence; and teachers want more training, guidance, and resources to teach effective sex ed.
All students have the right to medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education that gives them the knowledge they need to make healthy decisions.
– Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey
The report authors noted New Jersey has a strong sex education policy, compared to other states. But they also find some areas of the state law troubling — including the requirement to stress abstinence and highlight failure rates of contraceptives.
According to the report, stressing abstinence can shame young people and be ineffective at deterring risk behaviors. Likewise, highlighting failure rates of contraceptives can stigmatize and is also an ineffective scare tactic.
“Scaring and stigmatizing young people is not only ineffective, it’s also dangerous,” said Wojtowicz. “All students have the right to medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education that gives them the knowledge they need to make healthy decisions.”
According to survey results, the report finds that the state also needs to ensure that sex education is more inclusive. Curricula must be improved to cover gender identity and sexual orientation more thoroughly. The report finds a need for schools to implement a trauma-informed approach in sex education, and all content areas, to ensure that students who have survived childhood trauma feel safe and able to learn.
“Early education about sex – particularly on the topic of consent – is an absolutely critical piece of the puzzle to prevent sexual violence,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA). “We’re heartened to see parents overwhelmingly agree – 94 percent of surveyed parents responded that they want their children to receive consent education in school.
“But the survey also showed just 47 percent of students reported that their classes covered sexual violence or consent education,” Teffenhart said. “We look forward to continue working towards full implementation of New Jersey’s consent education requirement to close that gap between what parents want and what students receive in classrooms.”
Among the report’s recommendations are: the removal of the requirements in state statute that sex education programs and curricula must stress abstinence and that sex education programs and curricula must highlight failure rates of contraceptives; providing recommended curricula for sex education for all schools at each grade level; strengthening accountability measures for sex education standards; and establishing a database or widely accessible source of high-quality sex education materials.
“New Jersey’s students deserve comprehensive, accurate sex education in order to make safe and healthy decisions for themselves,” said Sarah Fajardo, policy director, ACLU-NJ. “New Jersey’s Sex Education Report Card contains critical insight into areas where we can improve and safeguard young peoples’ well-being.”