Improper Influence: NYC Public Schools Bow To Church Rules On Sex Ed

Putting the dogma of a church ahead of the needs of public schools students is not being 'responsible.' In fact, it’s an abrogation of responsibility.

New York state law mandates that public school students receive sex education and instruction about HIV/AIDS. But some students in New York City can’t get that vital information in their classrooms and have to go elsewhere for it.

Why is this so? It turns out that in the Big Apple, some public schools are operating in buildings owned by the Catholic Church. And the church hierarchy won’t allow this instruction on site.

The New York Daily News reported recently that public school officials have been leasing space from the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn since 2005. The church has empty buildings that used to be parochial schools, and the city needs more space. This year, according to the Daily News, NYC’s Education Department will pay the church more than $27 million in rent.

In each case, the students attending the church-owned facilities must leave the buildings and travel somewhere else for sex education. Students at El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, a public charter school in Brooklyn, must hoof it 15 minutes away to get this instruction. (And don’t even get me started on the giant cross on the building.)

Not surprisingly, many of the students and their parents think this is a foolish arrangement.

Tayshawn Edmonds, a 15-year-old sophomore at El Puente, labeled the policy “crazy” and added, “The church owns the building, so they call the shots. But I don’t see why they get to control what we’re doing at our school.”

They get that control because education officials in New York City let them have it. Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott told the Daily News, “We have dozens and dozens of sites with the diocese and archdiocese, and that’s predicated on being responsible and following the tenets of the church.”

Putting the dogma of a church ahead of the needs of public schools students is not being “responsible.” In fact, it’s the opposite: an abrogation of responsibility.

And, as should be obvious, a public school system has no obligation to follow the tenets of any church. In fact, public schools aren’t allowed to do that.

I know that space is at a premium in New York City. These former parochial schools are empty, so it makes some sense to put them to use. But why did NYC’s education officials have to give away the store? I find it hard to believe that in New York – the tough town that never sleeps, a place where "if you can make it there you can make it anywhere" – no one in the city’s Education Department can negotiate.

The church hierarchy is getting more than $27 million a year in rent for these schools. That’s a nice chunk of change. My guess is that the bishops would like to keep that money. Perhaps someone in the city’s Education Department should tell church officials, “Look, we’re done letting you guys call the shots about what’s taught in our curriculum. If you want your check this year, drop the policy or we’re done here. Deal or no deal?”

What would happen? Maybe it’s time to find out.