Sex education has been mandatory in public middle and high schools in the city since January, including those serving students with special needs. But one independent special needs school has been teaching sex ed for quite some time and teachers say it's especially important for their students. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
It can be one of the most awkward classes for students -- and most controversial among parents. But at Aaron Academy, a Manhattan school for special needs students, sex ed is a key part of its mission to prepare responsible, successful adults.
"Everything that we do here is to better prepare them to handle situations when they are faced with them," said Aaron Academy Social Worker Martine Soren.
Aaron Academy serves middle and high school students with a variety of special needs. It's a private school, but administrators say the city pays most students' tuition, after determining it's the best school for them. And for the students, the staff says sex ed is particularly important.
"Adolescence is such a challenging time for any teenager and I feel that for students with special needs, this time is even more difficult," Soren said. "Their hormones are raging and chronologically while they might be 14, 15 or 16, emotionally and cognitively they are not able to manage all these changes."
Health class for students at Aaron Academy is on the schedule, starting in sixth grade.
"It may take a class or two just to get kids used to 'This is what we're talking about today. Today is sex ed.' You always get the giggles but they have the questions. And after a class or two then the questions start flowing," said Aaron Academy Health Teacher John Bracchi.
"I asked about why we need this? What do we use this for? I ask a lot of questions in class," said one Aaron Academy student.
"We do a lot of role plays with our students, which they absolutely love. It's an opportunity for them to really act out a situation and see how they would handle something. A lot of times we'll give them a scenario - whether it be peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, safe sex. And we want them to play it out in the safe supporting environment of a classroom," Soren said.
As for the debate over whether sex ed should be taught at home or in school, Aaron Academy says it should be both.
"We believe that the information - the technical information, the knowledge - has to be taught in school. And then the ethics and the values and the responsibilities for making decision is the family responsibility," said Aaron Academy Director Barbara McKeon.
McKeon says though the school serves families with many different religious beliefs and cultural background, no one has ever requested their child to be kept out of sex ed class.