To the Editor:
I deeply respect and appreciate the sentiments expressed by four parents regarding sexuality education provided by HiTOPS (Town Topics, May 16). Being a parent myself and having been involved with the organization for almost 20 years, I can tell you that HiTOPS wholeheartedly agrees with the authors that parents have the right and the responsibility to provide information about sexuality to their children within the context of family values, religious beliefs and cultural norms.
HiTOPS’ mission to promote adolescent health and well-being is accomplished in part by providing age-appropriate education to middle school and high school youth within a public health context. Our lesson plans are in alignment with the New Jersey Department of Education Core Curriculum Content Standards in Health Education for all New Jersey public schools. Health education on any subject is designed to give students the information and skills they need to make decisions that eliminate or reduce their risk for negative health outcomes.
HiTOPS provides health education throughout New Jersey on a range of health topics, including bullying, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, postponing sexual involvement, abstinence, dating violence, sexual assault prevention, appreciating differences, healthy and unhealthy relationships, pregnancy prevention and STI/HIV prevention. Lessons provide factual information, as well as a forum for discussion, to help youth understand the consequences of certain actions and make decisions that are in line with their values and protect their health. Many parents rely on these programs and know that the issues are covered under state mandate. Other parent may choose to opt their children out of these classes.
Some Princeton High School students participate in a class called Teen PEP, where students learn to be peer leaders on similar topics. Freshmen at PHS receive these peer-led programs as part of their health classes. The 900-page manual to which the authors refer in their letter is the training manual for the Teen PEP class, and it is only used by the PHS Juniors who apply and are accepted to be part of the Teen PEP program. Teen PEP is a program developed and implemented by HiTOPS and the Princeton Center for Leadership Training, and funded by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. This program was also developed in conjunction with the content standards and has been evaluated rigorously for medical accuracy.
While this community is fortunate in so many ways, the fact remains that the U.S. suffers the highest teenage pregnancy rate and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases amongst teens than all developed countries. National studies are reporting that it is not that they are more sexually active, but that they just do not have the same information as their global peers to protect themselves. Experts around the world agree, HiTOPS’ approach — providing accurate, unbiased information and access to resources and care — is the best approach for reducing risks and promoting health-enhancing decisions.
Elizabeth M. Casparian, PhD