In New York City, the public school students who attend classes in a building owned by the Catholic Church can’t actually attend all of their classes there. As the New York Daily News reports, students need to leave campus in order to receive state-mandated instruction on sexual health, as part of a long-standing agreement between Church officials and the city’s public school district that has recently come to light.
New York state law requires sex ed classes to include information about condoms, birth control, and HIV and STD transmission, and those standards were strengthened specifically for New York City’s public school district under a new citywide standard enacted in 2011. So far, those initiatives have been wildly successful, and New York City’s teen pregnancy rate has plummeted by more than 25 percent over the past decade.
But Church officials say that type of comprehensive sex ed instruction violates Catholic doctrine. In Catholic-affiliated schools, students are taught abstinence-only education with no mention of contraceptive methods — and at least in New York City, the Church’s influence can even impact public schools’ ability to teach sex ed.
The Catholic Church is one of the biggest landowners in New York City, and leases about 40 buildings to the city’s Department of Education. That financial arrangement is attractive to the Church at a time when enrollment in private Catholic schools is declining, and Church officials see no reason to change their sex ed policy. “It is an arrangement that has been working well for both sides for years, and one we intend to continue,” Diocese of Brooklyn spokeswoman Stefanie Gutierrez told the New York Daily News.
Some public school students disagree. Tayshawn Edmonds, a 15-year-old who attends El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Williamsburg, has to walk 15 minutes off campus to attend his sex ed classes. “The church owns the building, so they call the shots,” he explained. “But I don’t see why they get to control what we’re doing at our school.”
The Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception persists into the realm of higher education, too. Across the country, Catholic-affiliated colleges are still fighting against an Obamacare provision that requires insurance plans to cover the full cost of birth control, even though there’s already an exception for the religious institutions who object to covering contraceptives. And at Boston College — which is a Jesuit institution — school officials are threatening disciplinary action against students who distributed condoms as part of a safe sex campaign.