PHILADELPHIA - Pennsylvania family-planning organizations, obstetricians, gynecologists, and pediatricians, and the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter today asking school administrators to evaluate their district's sexuality-education programs to ensure that they provide medically accurate and unbiased information.

"As the school year opens, we want schools to teach curricula that give Pennsylvania youth the information they need to make smart and healthy choices about their sexuality," said Julie Petrella, Interim Director of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "In recent years, too much time and money have been wasted on ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that leave teens vulnerable to pregnancy and STDs."

Today's letter, which is being sent to 501 public school superintendents and the CEOs of 93 charter schools statewide, cautions that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs give youth the false impression that condoms do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or prevent unintendend pregnancies. The coalition is asking schools to implement comprehensive sexuality education programs that will explain the benefits of abstaining from sex but will also supply students with age-appropriate information and resources they need to fully protect themselves should they begin having sex.

The signatories of today's letter include the heads of the Pennsylvania chapters of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the four family planning councils in the state, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

"It's important that teenagers are well-educated about healthy sexual behaviors," said David Turkewitz, M.D., President of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Developmentally appropriate information on sexual behavior enables teens to make safer personal decisions. Schools need to contribute to the solution by providing educational alternatives to teens rather than promote an abstinence-only approach that we know will fail."

Recent studies show that most abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don't prevent teens from having sex before marriage and discourage them from using condoms and getting treated for STDs when they art having sex. This is particularly alarming since in the United States each year nearly 9.1 million young people 15 to 24 years old become infected with an STD and more than 800,000 teenagers become pregnant.

The federal government has poured more than a billion dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs since 1997. Between October 2004 and September 2005, federal aid to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Pennsylvania totaled nearly $7 million.

For the 2007 fiscal year, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has allotted $2.9 million from the "funds for child abuse discretionary activities" for abstinence-only-until-marriage programming in Pennsylvania. In total, Pennsylvania will be spending 12 million taxpayer dollars for these ineffective programs during the 2007 fiscal year.