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Education Reporter

Sex Survey Upsets Kids and Parents
Washington, D.C. parent "Susan" (not her real name) could tell something was wrong when she picked up her 12-year-old son from Hardy Middle School. When queried, the boy explained that he and his classmates had taken a "sex test" in health education class that day.

The 7th-grader was bewildered by some of the questions, which included whether he was male, female, or transgender and if he was "straight or heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian, not sure/questioning, or other." Other questions asked if kids could name all four body fluids that can transmit HIV, if they knew the difference between oral, vaginal and anal sex, and if they knew where to get a condom and how to correctly put it on themselves or a partner. The survey also asked for students' sexual history and details about drug and alcohol use.

The questionnaire was developed and administered by Metro TeenAIDS, a group contracted by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to educate children about HIV/AIDS. The nonprofit received about $95,000 from DCPS and more than $750,000 in federal funding in recent years, according to FedSpending.org.

Metro TeenAIDS calls its program Making Proud Choices! and utilizes 17-24 year olds recruited by City Year (part of the AmeriCorps network) to teach a program designed to help D.C. middle school students "avoid HIV transmission, unplanned pregnancy, alcohol, and illegal drugs." One of these young City Year facilitators was on hand to explain anal and oral sex to the class when the aforementioned 12-year-old boy said he didn't know what those terms meant. Those explanations raised even more questions for some students, and one child reportedly hyperventilated.

DCPS officials said that the survey was "an assessment used to determine the students' baseline knowledge and to responsibly ensure that students get all of the information and skills they need to protect themselves." The survey is one of three that students are asked to complete over the course of the academic year to determine "what impact the program is having."

An introductory letter about Making Proud Choices! warns parents that some of the questions "may make your child feel uncomfortable" or have "an emotional reaction." The letter also includes a form for parents who want to either opt their children out of the survey or the program in its entirety. Parents, however, were unaware of both the survey and the program because the letter went home on the same day students took the survey, a mistake school officials called "unfortunate."

Adam Tenner, Metro TeenAIDS executive director, said his group wants to work with parents, but he believes that most of the school's 12-year-olds are much more sexually experienced than their parents realize. He cited a 2009 Youth Risk Survey finding that nearly 23% of D.C. middle school students have already had sex, and noted the District has a local STD epidemic that is 16 times higher than the national average. He also said his organization has been giving students the same survey for the past seven years without parental objections.

Hardy Middle School principal Dana Nerenburg put the remainder of the Making Proud Choices! program on hold in response to parental outrage and publicity over the matter. (www.thegeorgetowndish.com, 10-11-10 and 10-13-10; www.myfoxdc.com, 10-12-10)

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