A battle of values: The condom controversy in New York City public schools

Johan Johnson, Fordham University


The decision to make condoms available through the New York City public schools in the early 1990s created controversy among educational, political and religious leaders. It was this ongoing debate that was a prevalent factor in leading to the dismissal of the Chancellor, Joseph Fernandez, who was a strong advocate of the program. This issue galvanized an ecumenical clergy group who proved to be a relatively small but formidable opponent to Fernandez and supporters of condom availability. Clergy members applied sustained pressure to modify the program, and then played a role in the decision not to renew the Chancellor's contract. This qualitative case study describes the events that took place during this period of development, implementation, and revision of condom availability in New York City (1990–1993). It places the condom program in historical perspective by viewing this school initiative in relationship to the expanding role of the public school throughout the 20th century. This study seeks to answer the following questions: What were the significant political events surrounding the New York City condom availability program? What role did various organized religious groups play in affecting the condom availability program in New York City public schools? What moral and religious arguments were offered in support or in opposition to condom availability? These questions demonstrate the assumption that religious organizations, politics, and educational policy decisions are inextricably linked. Educators and policy makers, however, have viewed religious leaders as detached from the legitimate discourse over public school policy issues that was evident in the condom controversy in New York City. The literature reviewed for this study included current trends in sex education. Funding sources for HIV/AIDS education and condom programs were examined. Criticisms by religious and political leaders of New York City's condom program, as well as legal proceedings were detailed. Document analysis, in-depth interviews, and observations were done to gather data. The data demonstrated that with no clear cut evidence to support the positive effects of condom availability on HIV transmission and pregnancy, this issue remains in essence a philosophical battle of values.

Subject Area

School administration|Health education|Secondary education|Public health

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Johan, "A battle of values: The condom controversy in New York City public schools" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9923432.