WHS’s 40-year sex education journey

Lauren Greenspan and Alex Sumas

In the 1976 edition of Hi’s Eye, an article headlined “Sex ed course badly needed” ran.  Now, over 40 years later, WHS has made large strides in its sex education curriculum.

The 1976 article reads: “Westfield is prohibited by the Board of Education to instruct students concerning birth control. The major reason for this… is that they feel that the inclusion of sex education in the high school is unnecessary.”  The article explained that sex ed was vital and the BOE should institute a special unit on it.

The N.J. curriculum, updated in 2014, has an entire section titled “Human Relationships and Sexuality.”  Under this section, some requirements are to “Compare and contrast methods of contraception used by adolescents and factors that may influence their use,” and “Analyze factors that influence the choice, use, and effectiveness of safer sex methods and contraception, including risk-reduction and risk-elimination strategies.”

WHS works to incorporate the updated state requirements by aiming to rewrite the curriculum every five years, according to Health Teacher Lauren Hauser, who played a big role in the most recent rewrite. After being rewritten, a panel of administration  and the BOE revises the curriculum and then the BOE approves it. It was last rewritten in 2016.

The current curriculum builds upon itself from one year to the next. For example, during freshman year human sexuality is introduced, giving an overview of abstinence, condoms and STIs. The course goes into greater depth sophomore year.

“[With sophomores] we’re doing contraceptives,” said Hauser.  “I give a list of 15 contraceptives that are out on the market so that they know what they are, how much they cost, the availability [and] which are most likely used.”

The current curriculum teaches abstinence, required by the “Stress Abstinence” statute in the state requirements, but contrasts the previous curriculum which was heavily abstinence-based. It did bring up contraception, explained Hauser, but was nowhere near as detailed as the current one. Most of the contraceptives now taught, however, were not on the market a decade or two ago.

In its recent revision, the LGBTQ+ community has been included.  While inclusion is a step in the right direction, the coverage is minimal and leaves students of the community wanting more information.

The WHS sex ed curriculum has come a long way in 43 years. Now boasting one of the more intensive curriculums in the country, WHS has shown its ability to meet the educational needs of its students. As Hauser put it, “We are more progressive … in 2019 because we want safety first, we want people to make informed decisions and be educated on [sex].”