Senate Passes Healthy Youth Act with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

With the support of Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health, the Massachusetts Senate passed S. 2113, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth, which will ensure that school districts in the Commonwealth that elect to provide their students with sex education provide age-appropriate and medically accurate information that includes coverage of both abstinence and contraception.

Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate. This legislation changes this by requiring school districts that choose to offer sexuality education follow certain guidelines to ensure that students are provided with age-appropriate and medically accurate information.

“Providing comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate information to our youth is the best way to prepare them to make safe and healthy choices,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I’m pleased that the Senate was able to advance this legislation that will strengthen education and reduce rates of teen pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections, while keeping parents informed as to students’ curricula.”

Under the bill, sexual health education must include but not be limited to: the benefits of abstinence, delaying sexual activity, and the importance of effectively using contraceptives; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion, and intimidation, and to make healthy decisions about relationships and sexuality; physical, social, and emotional changes of human development; human anatomy, reproduction, and sexual development; and, age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students.

Senator Lewis successfully advocated for the inclusion of an amendment to the bill to require the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to update the comprehensive health curriculum framework, which hasn’t been updated since 1999.

Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of abstinence, while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences. This type of comprehensive curriculum is proven to be more effective at delaying sexual activity among young people, increasing the rate in which young people use contraception, while also lowering rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy.

The bill does not require schools to provide sexuality information. Local school boards and schools still make all decisions about whether to offer sex education. This legislation also maintains existing state law that allows parents to remove their children from sex education programs and gives school districts clearer guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.

School districts that provide a sexuality curriculum must adopt a written policy to give parents and legal guardians notification and inform them of the right to withdraw their child from all or part of the instruction. Notification to parents and guardians must be in English, as well as any other commonly spoken languages by parents. Districts must also have a process for parents to review the program instruction materials prior to the start of the course, if the parents request it.

This bill now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.