WASHINGTON – Young elementary school students should use the proper names for body parts and, by the end of fifth grade, know that sexual orientation is “the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender,” according to new sexual education guidelines released Monday by a coalition of health and education groups.
The nonbinding recommendations to states and school districts seek to encourage age-appropriate discussions about sex, bullying and healthy relationships – starting with a foundation even before second grade.
By presenting minimum standards that schools can use to formulate school curriculums for each age level, the groups hope that schools can build a sequential foundation that in the long term will better help teens as they grow into adults.
Experts say schools across America are inconsistent in how they address such sensitive topics.
Despite awareness of bullying, for example, Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, one of the groups involved with creating the standards, said some schools don’t address it – or at least not in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, which is where she said a lot of the bullying occurs.
Other organizations involved with the release include the American Association of Health Education, the American School Health Association, the National Education Association – Health Information Network, the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, and the Future of Sex Education Initiative. The latest suggestions were already drawing less enthusiastic reactions from some.
Cora Collette Breuner, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescence who was not involved in the creation of the standards, praised the approach of encouraging discussions at an early age.
Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Education Abstinence Association, said she does not agree with the topics and goals of the standards. Like the anti-smoking campaign of the last few decades that has had success, abstinence should be the focus of such programs, she said.