A public hearing Thursday on an updated sex education policy in the Niagara Falls School District – which would include the availability of contraceptives outside school doors – largely turned into a debate on Planned Parenthood.
Most of the voices in favor were those of students, some of them affiliated with Planned Parenthood as peer educators.
Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie, who sought the changes in response to high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in Niagara Falls, said it was the public's last chance to weigh in before the Board of Education votes on the policy, probably Dec. 21.
"That will include a change from an abstinence-only curriculum to an abstinence-plus curriculum by including discussion of contraception. That's the plus," Laurrie said.
Contraceptives will be available in a mobile health van provided by Community Health Center, parked behind the nurses' offices at the high school and prep schools, Laurrie said.
The van, staffed by a doctor and nurse, "would provide primary health care and provide family planning information," Laurrie said. "The accessibility gives them counseling before it gives them contraception."
Planned Parenthood and other partner agencies will be able to provide eight-session classes on sexuality to seventh, eighth and ninth graders during study hall periods, Laurrie said.
"I want to see the pregnancy rates go down. I want to see the dropout rates go down," said Mia Maye, a sophomore. Maye was one of the students who urged the board last spring to revisit the sex education issue.
"Throughout high school I watched as people I sat in fifth grade classes with became mothers and fathers," Olivia Adams, a senior, said. "It's obvious that teaching abstinence is not going to work."
Laurrie's plan includes hiring a health teacher to make the rounds of the district's elementary schools to instruct fifth and sixth graders on what the superintendent called "healthy behavior and healthy choices."
"We have a broken sex education curriculum, so why not call in a professional like Planned Parenthood?" said Adam Hamilton, who graduated in June.
"This is not what I understand education to be," said Dennis Darby, who said he has master's degrees in mental health counseling and pastoral work. "'If you're going to be sexual, get your condoms' is as duplicitous as it can be. It's a double message."
"You are choosing to be connected with a group that murders 1,000 unborn children every day," said Gary Boisclair, a former congressional candidate from Minnesota who now lives in Niagara Falls.
"We want this integrated into the schools so they can learn facts, so teens don't teach teens false statements," said Charlie Harris, of Ontario Avenue.
Keilana Agee, a high school junior who lives on 20th Street, said she's heard classmates say diabetes is a sexually transmitted disease and herpes and HIV are the same as one another.
"It shouldn't be a privilege to learn sex education. You need these things to get through life," Agee said.
"We'd like to begin rolling this out in a comprehensive way in February or March," the school superintendent, Laurrie, said.