New Jersey State Profile
Community-based organizations in New Jersey received $3,212,642 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
New Jersey Sexuality Education Law and Policy
New Jersey law mandates at least 150 minutes of health education during each school week in grades one through 12. In addition, high school students must acquire 3 ¾ credits of health education each year. School districts must align their health education curricula with the New Jersey Department of Education’s Core Curriculum Content Standards.
New Jersey State Department of Education released the Comprehensive Health Education and Physical Education Curriculum Framework in 1999. Itincludes detailed suggestions for teaching about HIV/AIDS, STDs, and teen pregnancy prevention.
Under Standard 2.4: Human Sexuality and Family Life, the curriculum framework addresses a wide variety of topics for students in kindergarten through high school including gender assumptions, peer pressure, the reproductive system, families, media stereotypes, HIV/AIDS, abstinence, sexual orientation, and marriage. The framework aims to “provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to establish healthy relationships and practice safe and healthful behaviors,” including instruction on “healthy sexual development as well as the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection, and unintended pregnancy.”
Standard 2.4 alsoincludes guidelines about abstinence and contraception. Specifically, students are taught strategies to support abstinence, and to compare and contrast this practice with the use of contraception. State law also requires that all sexuality education programs and curricula stress abstinence. In addition, “Any instruction concerning the use of contraceptives or prophylactics such as condoms shall also include information on their failure rates for preventing pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases in actual use among adolescent populations and shall clearly explain the difference between risk reduction through the use of such devices and risk elimination through abstinence.”
New Jersey allows parents or guardians to remove their children from any part of the health, family life or sex education classes if it is “in conflict with his conscience, or sincerely held moral or religious beliefs.” This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
See New Jersey Statutes Amended 18A:35-4.7, 18A:35-4.20 and 18A:35-4.21; New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:8-3.1; and New Jersey Comprehensive Health Education and Physical Education Curriculum.
Resolution Wants Federal Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding
Senate Resolution 98, introduced in March 2007 and referred to the Committee on Education, urges Governor Jon Corzine to apply for the almost $800,000 available to the state through the federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. Governor Corzine has rejected the money based on concerns about some of the strict guidelines imposed by the federal government. The resolution states, “To reject available funding which can be used for a needed and worthy program for our children is poor public policy, and students should be taught that abstinence is the only completely reliable option available to prevent pregnancy or the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.”
School Administrators Censor Yearbook Photo of Gay Couple
After buying a tribute page in the school yearbook for $150 and filling it with pictures of his life, an East Side High School senior found one of his photos, a picture of him kissing his boyfriend, blacked out when yearbooks were distributed.
The yearbook publication rules do prohibit graphic photos. In fact, the yearbook contains several photos of heterosexual couples kissing. Still, the pictured caught the attention of an assistant superintendent who was concerned about it upsetting parents and passed it on to the superintendent. Calling the photo “illicit,” the superintendent, who did not review any other portion of the yearbook, made the decision to black it out.2
The student has been open with his friends, family, and educators about his sexual orientation. “I’ve never had to deal with this before,” he said. “It’s shocking. It’s crazy.”3 Other students at the graduation banquet where the yearbooks were distributed were also surprised to find the photo censored. One fellow senior commented, “He purchased the page and [it] fell under the rules. If they want to kiss,” she said, “that’s their page. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.”4
Days after a story about the photo ran in the New Jersey Star Ledger, the district issued an apology to the student and made uncensored versions of the yearbook available. The statement reads, “Superintendent Marion A. Bolden personally apologizes to Mr. Jackson and regrets any embarrassment and unwanted attention the matter has brought to him.” A district spokesperson, however, coupled the apology with a defense of the earlier decision, saying, “The decision was based, in part, on misinformation that Mr. Jackson was not one of our students and our review simply focused on the suggestive nature of the photograph.”5
While he was pleased to have an uncensored edition of the yearbook, Jackson said he was disappointed to have learned about the apology through the media rather than a face-to-face interaction.6
School District Votes to Ban Video Showing Diverse Families
October 2007; Marlton, NJ
The Evesham Township School District board voted 7–1 to stop using a film showing diverse types of families, including those with same-sex parents. This decision came after an intense community-wide controversy.
The film, “That’s a Family,” was shown to third graders in an effort to encourage tolerance for children from diverse families.7 Families with stepparents, adopted children, mixed race parents, and bilingual parents were all shown. However, it was the inclusion of families with same-sex parents that caused a furor among some residents in the school district.
The controversy broke in January 2007 after some parents, angry that their children had seen the video, complained to school administrators. In response administrators held a forum for parents to voice their concerns. Local media outlets covered the event, which was sometimes less than civil. One parent screamed that homosexuality was a “horrible concept” and as such had no place in the Golden Rule—doing unto others as one would do unto oneself.8 Another called the depiction of same-sex families in the video “absolutely appalling.”9 And a third claimed that the school district did not have the right to show something that she felt was morally wrong.10
District officials initially defended the video as an important tool in teaching tolerance of diversity.11 The curriculum director said, “The video makes no judgment about lifestyles… the video is to teach respect for the diversity of all children.”12 Another parent agreed with the school board, saying, “You have to acknowledge that these different kinds of families exist.”13
The argument over the video continued through the summer until the school board’s vote to stop using it. The board reasoned that the video had simply created too much controversy within the community.14 One board member said, “I look out here and see a community tearing itself apart. It’s obvious that this video is a lightning rod.”15
While the video is not mandated by the state, New Jersey law does stipulate that second-grade students should have the ability to “identify different kinds of families and explain that families may differ for many reasons.”16 The state also gives legal rights and recognition to same-sex couples under civil union legislation.
The Laramie Project Brings Controversy and Changed Perceptions to Town
Overwhelming support for the production of The Laramie Project compelled Ocean Township High School administrators to reverse their initial ban on the play.
The Laramie Project arose from the 1998 murder of 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence, and left for dead on a below-freezing Midwestern night because he was gay. The principal believed the play’s provocative nature would cause a “disruption” to the district.17 The play’s director objected but to no avail.
Media attention to the incident, however, prompted outcry from individuals across the state. The statewide gay-rights group, Garden State Equality, announced a plan to bring 500 protestors to the next school board meeting; local radio personalities booked a theater in Trenton to hold the play if the district continued to refuse; and the superintendent received more than 1,000 emails from people in across the country and around the world condemning the decision.18
The outpouring of support prompted the district to reconsider. The superintendent said that he was working in students’ best interests. “I felt the play was poignant, brutal and very intense. You have to have the maturity to understand what is being inferred,” he said.19 Nonetheless, he changed his mind and allowed the production to continue.
The president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and actors in the play applauded the superintendent’s reversal. Several actors with the production said they felt they were “bringing a message of tolerance” to their peers, and possibly helping to avert a similar occurrence in the Garden State.20
The school used the controversy to teach about diversity and prejudice, presenting abridged versions of the play to each grade level. Teachers and students had a conversation about intolerance, homophobia, and bullying before and after the presentation to see how perceptions changed.
A freshman and actor applauded the activity, saying, “It makes you think how someone could have such belligerence to hurt someone so badly because of a sexual difference. I don’t understand how people could be so narrow-minded.”21
New Jersey would have been eligible for $161,398 in Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding in Fiscal Year 2007. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant requires states to provide three state-raised dollars or the equivalent in services for every four federal dollars received. The state match may be provided in part or in full by local groups. New Jersey, however, does not apply for these funds due to the extraordinary restrictions placed upon how the money must be spent. Therefore, the state does not match funds nor does it have organizations supported by this type of federal money.
In October 2006, Governor Jon Corzine made the decision to reject federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in New Jersey.23 Fred M. Jacobs, Commissioner for the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services, and Lucille Davy, Commissioner for the N.J. Department of Education, informed the federal government of the state’s decision in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The letter stated that the goals of the federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program conflicted with long-standing sexuality education laws in New Jersey.
According to the letter, the federal government’s abstinence-only-until-marriage guidelines contradict New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standard which has been in place for more than 25 years and requires a more comprehensive approach to sexuality education. Moreover, the governor’s office cautioned that accepting federal abstinence-only dollars may, in fact, cost the state money because students may require additional sexuality education to clarify the partial information and correct the misinformation that is taught in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.24
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There are four CBAE grantees in New Jersey: Columbus Hospital (receives two grants), Free Teens USA, Inc., Impact Community Development Corporation, and Several Sources Foundation. There is one AFLA grantee in New Jersey: Freedom Foundation of New Jersey.
Columbus Hospital’s “YES You Can!” abstinence-only-until-marriage program serves the areas of Newark, Orange, East Orange, and Irvington.25 When offered in clinical settings, YES You Can! uses a laptop-driven CD-Rom as a teaching tool. The computer program is accompanied by one-on-one counseling. In classrooms, YES You Can! uses three distinct age-appropriate curricula for students in grades 7 through 12.26
Free Teens USA, Inc. states that it “reaches more than 15,000 teens annually in urban and suburban areas of NY and NJ.”27 Free Teens USA sponsors both “Free Teens Clubs” and “Teen Leader Councils,” which use the Relationship Intelligence and Free Teens Leadership Training abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula.28
Free Teens USA dedicates much of its website to making the case against comprehensive sexuality education. One article entitled “Abstinence vs. ‘Comprehensive’ Sex Ed: Research or Propaganda” claims that although “there have been many (often gleeful) media reports this year about the Mathematica review of 4 federally funded abstinence education programs,” research by Stan Weed debunks this.29
In fact, the Mathematica review to which Free Teens refers was conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and looked at a handful of programs cherry-picked by the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry. The study found no evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs such as these increase rates of sexual abstinence.30
Stan Weed looked at one program in Virginia and found that it had marginal success in helping very young teens (13 year-olds) delay sexual intercourse. It is also worth noting that the curriculum used in this Virginia program relied on fear and shame, and included medically inaccurate information.31
Several Sources Foundation describes its mission by saying: “Through God’s Grace, we save babies’ lives and shelter their young mothers while providing education and ongoing compassionate support services. We further educate young people to make healthy life choices.”32 Several Sources Foundation strongly emphasizes chastity as one of those healthy life choices. While pregnant women “are awaiting the births of their babies, they are counseled on abstinence and attend chastity workshops.”33 The young women then take a chastity pledge.
Research has found that under certain conditions such pledges, most commonly called virginity pledges, may help some adolescents delay sexual intercourse. When they work, pledges help this select group of adolescents delay the onset of sexual intercourse for an average of 18 months—far short of marriage. Researchers found that pledges only worked when taken by a small group of students. Pledges taken by a whole class were ineffective. More importantly, the studies also found that those young people who took a pledge were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged. These teens are therefore more vulnerable to the risks of unprotected sexual activity, such as unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Further research has confirmed that although some students who take pledges delay intercourse, ultimately they are just as likely to contract an STD as their non-pledging peers. The study also found that the STD rates were higher in communities where a significant proportion (over 20 percent) of the young people had taken virginity pledges.34
The Several Sources Foundation grantee also publishes an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum, The Choice Game, which has an accompanying website. There are different versions of The Choice Game, including a “Midwest Version” with “95 percent Caucasian actors” and an “Urban Version” with “55 percent African American actors, 24 percent Hispanic actors.” According to the website, the “remaining [actors] are Caucasian.”35
Both versions include a section on teen pregnancy. On the website, the urban version follows a young pregnant woman of color as she attempts to decide if she will marry, put the child up for adoption, or raise the child alone. Abortion is not discussed as an option. The young woman is shown as having no support until the home for pregnant teens (which Several Sources also runs) steps in—her grandmother cannot help her raise the child because “you know that landlord won’t have no babies,” her boyfriend leaves to join the Navy, and her boyfriend’s mother doubts if her son is the father. The Midwest version does not deal with unintended pregnancies, instead stating that this “curriculum has as its exclusive purpose to teach abstinence and is consistent with the abstinence-until-marriage message.”36 While it is often appropriate to create culturally competent curricula geared to the specific population or community in whom the program will be used, the double standard implied by these two versions is disturbing. Several Sources seems to suggest that while young people in the Midwest have the ability to decide to save sex for marriage thereby avoiding unintended pregnancies, their “urban” counterparts do not and will be left to deal with the consequences.
The video clip about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from the Midwest version of The Choice Game depicts a young man and woman having a conversation about the differences between men and women:
Woman: I really cared for him and thought we maybe had a future together
Man: Yeah, girls are really different
Woman: What’s that supposed to mean?
Man: You know, I mean like guys just want to have fun.
Woman: Why? Cause they don’t get pregnant?
Man: I think some girls wanna get pregnant, just to be able to leave their parents.
Man: Or, they just wanna get government aid.37
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007
Adolescent Health Contact38