Sex Education in New York City Schools


Click here to see parent letters about sexual health education, including information on opting out of certain prevention lessons. Families with middle and high school students should expect to receive these notification letters from schools before sexual health lessons are taught as part of a comprehensive health education course. 

Sexual Health Education Mandate:

New York City requires schools to include sexual health education as part of comprehensive health education. New York State already requires that students have a semester course of comprehensive health education in middle and high school; health education is also a high school graduation requirement. Now, NYC public middle and high school students are required to receive sexual health education lessons during the semester health education course in both middle and high school.

The Department of Education is committed to ensuring that both middle school and high school students are exposed to valuable information so they can learn to keep themselves safe before, and when, they decide to have sex.

As with our HIV/AIDS curriculum, there is a parental opt-out on lessons involving prevention and birth control. (For parent notification letters, click here.)

The Department of Education has not mandated a specific curriculum for schools, but we have recommended curriculum: HealthSmart in Middle Schools and HealthSmart used in conjunction with Reducing the Risk in High Schools, which include age-appropriate sexual health lessons. We have been recommending these curricula since they were selected with the help of health experts and community based organizations in 2007, and many of our schools already use them.

The versions of HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk that DOE recommends and provides to teachers have NYC-specific modifications and are not the same as the nationally available versions. NYC DOE worked with the publisher to make modifications so that the curriculum would be appropriate for our students and meet DOE policy.

For example, the national version includes a “risk card” activity you may have read about in the press. However, this is one of the lessons we removed from the NYC version of the Middle School HealthSmart curriculum because we didn’t think it was age-appropriate.

Reducing the Risk is a research-based sex risk reduction curriculum.

Research has shown that Reducing the Risk can help: 1) delay the initiation of sexual intercourse, 2) increase the use of contraception among teens who do initiate sexual intercourse, and 3) increase parent-child communication about abstinence and contraception.

Both HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk emphasize that abstinence is the best way to avoid risk and the only way to be 100% safe. They both state that students should use protection correctly and consistently if they currently are or will choose to become sexually active.

Sexual health education lessons include medically accurate information, as well as lessons on developing communication skills, talking to your parents, avoiding high risk situations, refusal and delay tactics, and recognizing healthy and unhealthy relationships.

DOE’s Office of School Wellness Programs (OSWP) provides free trainings and curriculum to teachers and administrators who attend our sessions.

For more information, visit our Standards and Curriculum page.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Has the sex education mandate changed DOE’s policy on condom demonstration? Are you distributing condoms in Middle Schools?

The sex education mandate has not changed DOE’s policy on condom demonstrations. Condom demonstrations are permitted in health resource rooms in high schools only. Condoms are also available free of cost to students in health resource rooms in high schools.

What can parents "opt out" of?

Teaching of prevention methods – specifically lessons on condoms and other birth control methods. (To read more about how to opt out, click here for parent notification letters.)

What can’t parents “opt out” of?

Lessons on anatomy and bodily changes during adolescence; abstinence; avoiding risk behavior that can result in HIV, pregnancy, or STDs; refusal skills and delaying tactics (for example, how to say no to a partner without making him/her angry); avoiding abusive relationships.

I keep hearing about a Columbia University website called GoAskAlice.Com that is referenced in your materials. Do you direct students to this website?

While Columbia University’s “GoAskAlice” website is listed in teacher materials as one of many in a list of possible resources for teachers to utilize, we do not direct students to the website.

What about the risk flash cards where students rate the safety of graphically described sexual acts? Aren’t these part of the Middle School HealthSmart curriculum?

The risk flash cards are part of the national version of the HealthSmart curriculum. New York City does not use this version. New York City worked with the publisher of the Middle School HealthSmart curriculum to remove this and other lessons we felt were not age-appropriate.

Does the Department of Education survey students about their sexual activity?

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducts a Youth Risk Behavior Survey among high school students that provides us with valuable information about sexual activity among teens. Read more about the survey.