By Bob Katzen
On September 23, the Senate 38-1, approved legislation that would require that all public schools offering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum “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 sex education curriculum and gives parents the right to withdraw a student from the instruction. Another provision creates a process for parents to inspect the program instruction materials prior to 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.
“I am very proud that the Massachusetts Senate has once again reaffirmed our commitment to this commonsense healthy policy that will ensure our youth have the tools needed to protect their health and form respectful relationships,” said sponsor Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) at the time the legislation was approved. “This legislation makes it clear that sex education in the commonwealth must be inclusive for all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent.
“This is a highly controversial bill, as demonstrated by the fact that it has failed to pass for multiple sessions,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) at the time the measure was approved. He was the only senator who voted against the bill. “If this legislation is to pass into law, it would be a direct usurpation of the local school district’s decision-making abilities. Each community has different needs based on their specific demographics, which is why they should have the ability to decide their curriculum. By mandating a statewide sex education curriculum, you directly take away the ability of a community to decide how sensitive topics like sex education are taught.”
“It is quite troubling that our elected officials think taking local control away from school districts and parents regarding sex ed curriculum is a good idea,” said Andrew Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “And even worse is the type of graphic content they want to push on students in the curriculum they are sanctioning. In what reality does normalizing high risk sexual activity like anal and oral sex for teens or teaching young vulnerable girls how to obtain abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent result in healthy youth?”