By Bob Katzen
Senate 31-6 approved and sent to the House a bill requiring that all public schools offering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum must “provide medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education.”
Under current law, public schools are not required to teach sex education and the bill does not change that but rather mandates that any schools that choose to teach sex education are required to follow a curriculum, based on age, that includes human anatomy; reproduction and sexual development; the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity; the importance of effectively using contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion and intimidation; and information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students, including recognition that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
The measure also requires any school offering sex education to notify parents about the school’s sexual health education curriculum, give parents the right to withdraw a student from the instruction and create a process for parents to inspect the program instruction materials before the start of the course.
Supporters said that under the bill, local cities and towns still have the authority and power to decide whether sex education is taught in their schools. They said the measure will ensure that schools that choose to teach sex education will have a framework to follow. They noted the bill will prepare students to make healthy decisions and will reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Opponents said local school committees, parents, teachers and administrators should have the authority to decide what will be included in any sex education course that is offered. They noted the bill gives way too much power to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to mandate what kind of things are taught. They argued that the definition of “age appropriate” in the bill is vague and basically leaves that entire decision up to DESE.