Weather Updates

CPS to start age-appropriate sex education programs

Chicago Public School students are about to learn a whole lot more about their bodies, themselves.

A new sex education program, rolled out in fall 2014, will teach Chicago children about sexual health in age-appropriate ways, making Chicago the largest urban school district to require a minimum amount of sexual health education, said Dr. Stephanie Whyte, CPS’ Chief Health Officer.

The program also will fall in line with larger health initiatives, such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Healthy Chicago and President Barack Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

Instruction will be divided into K-4 and 5-12, Whyte explained. Small children will learn about their bodies, about “good touch” versus “bad touch” and talking about feelings and bullying. Older students will discuss healthy relationships, sexual orientation, medically-recommended contraceptives and preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. And for the first time in schools, students will learn about gender identity, she said.

And abstinence will be taught as the accepted norm, Whyte said.

Community activists applauded the update, the first since 2008, for expanding on limited information currently available to many Chicago students who are confused about their bodies.

“The statistics are why this policy is needed to go on and on but they can’t tell you what I’ve seen on a first-hand basis,” said Kateri Nelis, who works with youth health programs at the Communities in Schools in Chicago organization.

“I’ve had middle school through high school students ask me if boys can get pregnant, girls have asked me if they can get pregnant through their mouths and why they get their periods. And boys want to know why their voices change during puberty,” Nelis said.

“A principal whom I’ve worked with told me a male student in all seriousness screamed out that his uterus was hurting him.”

Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair said the sexual health education is best for public health. He pointed to troubling statistics showing teen birth rates in Chicago are higher than the national average, higher, too, than in other large cities.

More than half of CPS high school students reported in a risk behavior survey that they had sexual intercourse, 12 percent of them before age 13. Nearly 90% reported not using any kind of birth control, Whyte said.

Cook County leads the nation for gonorrhea and syphilis rates, and ranks second for chlamydia, according to the city department of public health. HIV infection diagnoses among 15- to 19-year-old Chicagoans have increased 43 percent since 2000.

“It is important we provide students of all ages with accurate and appropriate information so that they can make healthy choices not just in their pre adolescence and adolescent years, but all their lives,” Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said.

Parents, as always, will have an opportunity to review the topics and opt their children out of the program should they so wish.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.