(VIDEO) NYC Schools Chancellor Jokes About Birth Control

Bianca I. Laureano

NYC schools chancellor Cathie Black made suggested birth control as a solution to overcrowding in schools. Why are her comments inappropriate and what can we learn?

If you live in New York City, or catch some NYC news feeds, the controversy of NYC schools chancellor, Cathie Black, is old news. For those of you who are not aware, the appointment of Black by Mayor Bloomberg (who may I add is in his third term which the people did NOT vote for) has been a zone of contention for many parents, teachers, and activists. Much of the concern around her appointment stems from her lack of experience in the field and her hiring procedures. Now, her “jokes” around birth control in NYC schools can be added to that list of concerns.

I’m a bit late to this story as I’m still trying to enjoy my last few days of vacation before the semester begins and I’m back to teaching on a regular basis. After reading some commentary on a few social networking sites by colleagues working in school based health centers in the city, I had to look up the story and read what exactly happened.

Perhaps there is too much irony in the fact that many of the sources that came up in an Internet search for this story were of a conservative space. Even the articles that referenced their original source came from those conservative news outlets. The one space I found online that offered a video of the conversation was at Clutch Magazine in an article written by Liane Membis.  Watch the video below of the exchange:

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Here are some of the concerns I have regarding her statement:

I have no problem with humor in the workplace, especially at tense meetings. What I have learned is that using humor takes skill and accountability for what may be the outcome. After all, it is not the intent, but the outcome that is often what folks remember and need to apologize for. What my concern about this joke is the connection to the history of eugenics, forced sterilization, racism, classism, and ableism that is not unique to the US, but that has a very specific history in NYC. For more information about specific experiences in NYC I suggest two texts: Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement by Jennifer Nelson, and Killing The Black Body by Dorothy Roberts.

The comment made “could we just have some birth control for a while? It would really help us out” was made while a man was speaking of overcrowding in schools. He was speaking about what the current overcrowding situation is when she made that comment. Her comment regarding birth control is not appropriate because she made it regarding a situation where children are already here. Thus, it can be/is interpreted as questioning why birth control was not used by parents. I’m of the opinion that it is extremely tasteless to question why parents chose to continue a pregnancy and parent versus other options, especially years after their child is born.

To follow this Black then states: “I don’t mean this in any flip way. It is many Sophie’s choices.” New York Daily News reporter Michael Daly hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

“But the parents at that downtown Manhattan meeting were overwhelmingly white and well-off, which may have been why she felt she could make the joke in the first place. She knows that those folks are not going to think she is really telling them to stop breeding.

The rich white lady from Manhattan might have received a very different reaction had she attempted that humor in a poor neighborhood where hope lives in the children and the realization of that hope resides in education.

The poor have historically been told by people of Black’s station to stop breeding and being such a burden”

Black, as a racially White woman with a large amount of power in how NYC schools are managed, must recognize how her power can be misused, even in conversations. Ignoring, forgetting, or being ignorant in how youth in NYC and their families have been treated regarding birth control and family size is not going to help convince her team or parents that she is a strong leader. Historical memory is real and there are many parents and inter-generational families that remember vividly what has happened regarding forced sterilization and over access to some forms of contraception in their community.

I’ve shared before how much of a challenge working in a school based health center was for me, especially in east Harlem where the student population was 100% youth of Color. One of the many challenges was questioning at one point why all of these contraceptive options were offered exclusively and so easily to the youth of Color I worked with versus the working class racially White youth, or youth with various social locations different from the students I worked with. It made me think more about what it means to have access and what it means when some underrepresented communities have more access than others.

I know I’m not alone in my discomfort or concern. Yet, I do not think this is a complete failure or mistake on Black’s part (or on Bloomberg’s in appointing her). There is some good that can come out of such comments and mistakes.

What I appreciate about Black’s comments is that she is comfortable discussing contraception. I remember how much activism we did on lobby day to Albany, the grants applied for just to offer the services to the students we work with on a regular basis so they can make the best decisions for themselves. Discussing these topics in NYC schools is not as present as it could be and Black may open up such dialogue. She is clearly pro-contraception, yet that does not mean she is pro-choice. We’ll have to see what legacy she may leave, if any, while in her new position. I admit, although I think her comment was tasteless and dangerous, I am hopeful for the potential in conversation.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.