The Chicago Board of Education is set to provide sex-education classes to all public school children, including kindergarteners.
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The Chicago Board of Education voted Thursday to expand sex education in public schools to meet state and national guidelines and curb skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted disease.
The new measure will be divided into sections: family-life education in kindergarten through fourth grade and complete sexual health education in fifth grade through high school, DNA Info Chicago reports.
Currently, sexual education in Chicago public schools begins in the fifth grade. Last year, United States health groups released recommendations advising public elementary schools to hold discussions about healthy relationships and appropriate touching that the organizations hope will be provide a sequential foundation for future sex ed courses.
Dr. Stephanie Whyte, chief health officer for Chicago Public Schools, presented evidence at the school board meeting that showed an alarming rate of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage sexual activity in the city, as well as data that shows students aren't being fully educated about sexual intercourse.
According to Whyte, Cook County — the second most populous county in the United States and which includes Chicago — ranks first nationally for rates of syphilis and gonorrhea, and second for chlamydia. Teenagers made up more than a third of Chicago's gonorrhea and chlamydia cases in 2011. Whyte added that more than half of all Chicago public high school students admitted to having sex in high school, 12 percent before the age of 13. Nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chlamydia rates for teenagers and young adults continue to increase.
More than a quarter of Chicago students also said they'd never been taught about HIV.
Calling the furthering of sex education a "public health imperative," Whyte said "it can no longer be limited to a few minutes over a few grade levels."
According to a district news release, younger learners will be taught about inappropriate touching and feelings. Students in the fourth grade will learn about puberty and HIV. In fifth grade, classes will be taught about reproduction, contraception and the prevention of HIV/AIDS, among other diseases. Discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation will also be added for the first time.
Whyte said parents would have the right to opt out of the courses, and would be apprised of all sexual education lessons.
"Parents are primary," she said.
Chicago parents expressed concern and anger following the board's decision.
"I just don't think it's appropriate," Melissa Diebold, a parent with children in the district, told MyFoxChicago.com. "They have no concept of anything like that at that stage in life."
Parent Mikkel Nance said that while he thinks it's great the city got the ball rolling, he believes keeping families informed is essential if the initiative is to succeed.
"[T]he only concern is how they implement it, and if they involved parents in that process and if they do so they'll make that transition smoothly," he said.
If approved by the Chicago Board of Education, the program could take effect in 2016.
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