This year, Chicago will be the largest urban school district to implement a required minimum of sex ed instruction and a specific curriculum for each grade level. The overhaul of the city’s comprehensive sex ed program means that students will receive age-appropriate information about wellness, anatomy, puberty, and sexual health that’s tailored for every grade.
When Chicago’s Department of Education first began considering the new curricula this past spring, it sparked some controversy among conservatives who raised alarm about its potential to shatter elementary school students’ innocence. And now that students are heading back to school for the first year that the new standards will be in place, they’re back in full force.
Several right-wing outlets proclaimed that Chicago is set to begin “sex ed for kindergartners.” But that rhetoric slipped into mainstream outlets, too. A local ABC affiliate published a story on Tuesday under the headline “Sex Education To Be Offered For Chicago Kindergartners.” A local CBS affiliate published a similar story on Sunday with the following lede: “Some people may think a five-year old is too young for sex education. Administrators with Chicago Public schools do not.”
Soon, conservative outlets moved onto the next round of the “scandal”: President Obama approves of kindergarten sex ed. CNS News dug up a clip of Obama from 2007 in which the then-senator expresses his support for “medically accurate, age-appropriate, and responsible sex education” at every grade level. Six years ago, that benign statement sparked its own round of “kindergarten sex ed” headlines. This week, right-wing sites re-upped them.
So what’s at the root of all of this concern? What kind of salacious details will Chicago’s youngest students be receiving, thanks to the new sex ed guidelines? What does Obama want to force kindergartners to sit through?
According to Chicago Public Schools’ chief health officer, Stephanie Whyte, kindergartners and first-graders will learn about anatomy, healthy relationships, and personal safety. The teachers for those grades will design lesson plans around topics like “my body,” “good touch vs. bad touch,” and “living things that reproduce.” By fourth grade, kids will start learning about the “physical, social, and emotional aspects of puberty.” Students won’t receive information about human reproduction and contraception until middle school.
Back in February, Whyte explained that the updated rules were spurred by the fact that over half of Chicago teens are sexually active, and the county’s STD rates are high. Chicago’s move coincides with a new state law that requires Illinois schools to include accurate information about birth control in sex ed classes.
Despite the recent round of fear mongering over “kindergarten sex ed,” comprehensive sexual health classes are not actually controversial among parents — especially since age-appropriate guidelines ensure that kindergartners don’t receive the same information as high schoolers. Pediatricians and psychologists encourage anatomy classes for young children, particularly so kids can learn the correct words for their genitalia, as an important way of teaching bodily autonomy and helping to prevent sexual crimes.