A legislative push in Albany to compel school districts to provide comprehensive sexual education from kindergarten through 12th grade has its detractors.
The New York State Catholic Conference opposes the legislation, for instance, because it says the measure ignores religious sensibilities and shuns parents who want a role in guiding their children’s sex education. Republican legislators, too, have railed against the bill.
Now, count Rochester’s Democratic mayor, Lovely Warren, among its critics.
In letters dated January 28 to Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators, Warren outlined her opposition to the sex education measure and two other bills.
One of those bills would permit a child who is at least 14 years old to authorize immunizations required by law without a parent’s consent. The other would allow a health care professional to treat a child under 18 for a sexually transmitted disease, including administering vaccines, without a parent’s consent.
“It would be unconscionable for a healthcare practitioner to administer an STD vaccine to my 9-year-old daughter without my consent,” Warren wrote to the governor.
“I urge you to reject this legislation and protect parents’ right to consent,” the letter read. “Additionally, I oppose (bills) mandating schools to teach sex education beginning in kindergarten, as suggested in A6512. I believe this bill strips away the rights of parents to be involved in their children’s sex education, and cause more harm than good.”
A representative from Cuomo’s office told CITY the letter was never received.
Bill A6512 would require the state commissioners of education and health to develop standards for age-appropriate, medically accurate, and inclusive sex education to be adopted by school districts.
New York is one of 21 states that do not require schools to teach sex education, including the topics of birth control or STD prevention. The state does, however, mandate HIV education.
The letter was read aloud at a recent gathering of Take Action ROC, which describes itself as “an advocacy group that supports the rights of parents to make medical, religious, and educational decisions for their children without governmental interference.”
Warren’s letter to Cuomo was read at the gathering by Kevin Pestke, the pastor at First Bible Baptist Church in Greece and the president at Northstar Christian Academy, the private parochial school in Gates that Warren’s daughter attends.
Pestke told the gathering that Warren drafted the letter at his request.
“What I love about this is I went into her office, we had this conversation as parents,” Pestke said. “She’s a Democrat. I’m a Republican. You know, I went and said, ‘Listen, I’m a faith leader, I get that you’re a person of influence.’ We talked. You know, I said, ‘I can gather a crowd of people at our church and people that are likeminded,’ but I said, ‘You have influence that I don’t have with certain people and I would love for you to wield some of that influence.’ And she said, ‘Of course I will.’”
In a phone interview, Pestke explained that he met with Warren at City Hall and that they shared a concern that the bills in question eroded parental authority. He said they agreed to work together to safeguard that authority.
Justin Roj, a spokesperson for Warren, stressed that, as the letter noted, the mayor is not against vaccinations. Her objection to the bills, he said, related to treating children for STDs and inoculating them without parental consent.
“Her opposition to sex education for kindergartners aligns with her longstanding religious beliefs,” Roj said.
Many New York school districts do teach sex education, including the Rochester City School District, but the curricula are not uniform across the state. What is covered is determined by individual boards of education.
The result, according to a widely-referenced 2012 New York Civil Liberties Union study, is that most districts convey inaccurate or incomplete information about anatomy, contraception, and STDs. More than half of the nearly 100 district surveyed made no mention of sexual consent or same-sex relationships.
New York has tried setting standards for sex education to no avail. The current bill would have school districts use the state’s program or choose another curriculum that aligns with the state standards.
In opposing the sex education and vaccine bills, Warren joins critics including Republican Assembly members Brian Manktelow and David DiPietro, who represent districts in Wayne and south Erie counties , respectively, and spoke at the Take Action ROC gathering.
Includes reporting from CITY's reporting partner, WXXI Public Media.
David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.